The value and rarity of Orange wine
All of the people that currently believe that Orange wine is a new trend should definitely reconsider, as this type of winemaking has existed for many, many years already. Traces of terracotta jars found 6000 years ago in Georgia are a proof that Orange wine has played a large part in the origin story of wine.
It is important to differentiate the traditional white wine from the orange wine to better comprehend its elaboration. A traditional white wine is characterized by its pressuring process of the grapes, by extracting the lowest amount of elements from the skin of the grapes such as the bitterness and the tannins. In certain cases, to obtain white wines with a stronger roundness, the winemaking process can be altered, notably with a maceration period before the fermentation. This fermentation happens at a temperature of 5 to 15 °C, by making sure to avoid oxidation at all costs (by adding carbonic gas or neutral gas). This technique can be used on the entirety of the harvest or only for a portion of it and it is the most beneficial for varietals such as: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Muscat, Sauvignon blanc and Viognier. The maceration can vary from a few hours to a couple days depending on the type of wine, but always at low temperatures.
The orange wine, however, is elaborated with white grapes but follows the winemaking process of a red wine. This alters the maceration period, with a fermentation period preceding it in a solid state (compared to a liquid state). This fermentation period adds pigments, aromas and tannins to the wine, offering it its main characteristic that gives this wine its name: a robe of a strong orange color.
Today, winemakers that follow the ancestral winemaking method originating from Georgia (terracotta jars) can be compared to the numbers of acrobats that are working with no safety net. The elaboration of the product is very natural; it requires clusters of grapes originating from a healthy harvest as they will be macerated and fermented without any additives and with only an inkling of SO2 added during the bottling. But beware! Not all wines that have aged in these specific conditions can be identified as orange wines; this all depends of the moment at which these jars were used during the winemaking process. As an example, most of the wines are aged in these conditions but are identified as white. For it to be certified as an orange wine, the wine must have been fully elaborated and aged in terracotta jars. The balance of aromas and tannins that is sought from this specific method is very tricky and can bring forth the positive points of the grapes, but also its negative ones.
Josko Gravner, winemaker, is one the greatest examples of producers that fully understand the techniques required for the production of orange wine. His Bianco Breg 2007 cuvee is the result of a very long process before its introduction to the market, adding to the complexity of the product, a true signature product from this winemaker. This wine is elaborated from Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot grigio and Riesling. These varietals are fermented separately from the others in underground jars. This fermentation happens spontaneously with indigenous yeast and with no temperature regulation. After the pressuring of the grapes, the wine is reintroduced in the amphorae for a prolonged period of at least 5 months before the aging period in large oak casks, for a period of 6 years. Finally, the wine is bottled without any additives or filtration. The result is a complex wine, with a vivifying acidity and textured tannins. The aging period of an orange wine is quite close to yellow wine for its rarity and value, as it is sought after by some of the finest connoisseurs around the world. Available in very low quantities at the SAQ Signature of Quebec.