Before harvest I sent you the first chapter of Searching for L’Estrange – the story about my search for the mystery creator of the serendipitous stoneware clay pots I bought for the cellar. As promised – a little later than planned – please see the next chapter of the story below.
So there in my winery, I had 11 small 330 liter and 2 large 1600 litre clay pots. Pots like these are made from soil and you need them to seal 100% while baking at over 1200 degree celsius. Unfortunately, this does not always happen and every now and then there might be a pore that is not completely sealed. Which is preferably not something you want to discover AFTER you fill it with your valuable juice. So I filled them with water first (something I should’ve done BEFORE I bought the pots!) and left it overnight.
The next morning, I discovered that 5 of the 11 pots were sweating – not leaking as such, but they were definitely not dry from the outside.
I was totally devastated. One of those times where the reality was such a shock, that I could almost convince myself that my eyes were playing tricks on me. I mean, yes, I got them at a bargain price in comparison to brand new ones, but if they were leaking they were completely useless to me. Except maybe as extremely overpriced decorative garden pots. It’s times like these (yes it has happened before), that I feel I am letting my family down. And there’s no better motivation than that to try and fix them.
As some of you might recall from Chapter 1, I had climbed into the large 1600 liter pots from the top and sealed them with beeswax, but the hole at the top of the smaller pots is too small for even my arm to reach in.
It was at that stage that I got hold of the number for Andrew L’Estrange – the elusive creator of my “precious” pots. The large ones were full of fermenting juice when I called Andrew for the first time. “Do you know they leak?” were his first words! I went on to explain to him how I fixed the large ones. As he lives in Limpopo and couldn’t come to the cellar, we started these daily long phone conversations where we devised all sorts of little plans to seal the pores. We started off by trying Tartaric acid solutions in the hopes of getting the tartaric to crystallise in the pores and also tried Bentonite clay solutions. But nothing worked and eventually the only plan left was the most radical one.
So I lit a (very) huge fire. I then attached a small pot as securely as possible to the forklift and lowered it into the fire. We heated the pot until it was so hot that you could not touch it with your bare hands. I then took blocks of beeswax and chucked it into the vessels, waited until it was fully melted into a water-like runny state and then lowered the pot onto the grass. I covered my hands with huge welding gloves and started rolling the egg-shaped pots up and down a little hill in order to spread the melted beeswax on the inside walls of the pot. It was quite a challenge to make sure that the wax reached every part of the inside of these pots. We then turned the pot upside down so that the excess beeswax could run out. We were hoping that as the clay cooled down, the open pores would suck the melted beeswax into them and subsequently block all the little leaking holes. When the process was done, I filled them with water again and VOILA! our plan worked.
So why would I put my valuable juice inside these clay vessels? I am no physics guy and it is hard to get hold of science based info, so in circumstances like these, I always feel it’s best to speak to older people. I met up with a chicken egg farmer and this is what I learned: The egg shape stimulates a natural vortex-like movement of the substance within the egg and keeps the contents fresh for longer. He also mentioned to me that his grandfather believed that if you store a chicken egg with the pointy side to the bottom it lasts longer than if you store it the other way around. Concrete egg-shaped tanks (modern technology, I also use them) are a very popular tank to make wine in these days. These tanks have the pointy side of the egg to the top, but the clay pots (made with 2000 year old technology) have the point to the bottom.
He then said that the moon moves the contents of the egg. Now, even as a surfer who knows the effect of the moon on water, I was sceptical about this one. That was until after fermentation when I opened the first pots. I compared the wine from the pots with the wine from the exact same vineyard which fermented in an old French oak barrel. The wine in the barrel was perfectly clean, but the juice in the pots were murky with fine leese – all in suspension. I found it so fascinating that I showed it to everyone who came to the cellar. And each time I opened a pot it was the same…until, to my amazement, this one particular day when the pot and the barrel wine were both clean. Totally confused, I turned to the lunar calendar and it was a new moon. So, full moon the tides are super high and my pots are…dirty!
We now apply this act of nature in a very practical way in the cellar. After fermentation I want the fine leese to be suspended in the wine for ageing. So I wait for the full moon and pump the wine from one pot to the next, when I know the fine leese is in suspension. On the other hand, if I want to remove the wine for bottling, I wait for the new moon when it is as clean as possible.
This is not where me and Andrew’s chapter ends as I still need to tell you of my remote Limpopo farm visit, but that is a story for another day. The next chapter to follow shortly.