Temecula’s Somerset winery is using a 6,000-year-old technique to make wine.
If you think you know how wine is made, think again. Somerset Vineyard & Winery in Temecula, California, is reviving the ancient art of making wine in terracotta pots instead of oak barrels or stainless-steel tanks.
Six thousand years ago, the Georgians began using amphorae, clay vessels, to age wine. In Georgia the egg-shaped amphora are known as Qveri. The process caught on in other countries with Italy and Greece calling their pots, which look more like vases with handles on each side, anfore, orci or giare. In Spain the pots are also egg-shaped and known as tinaja.
Somerset winery owner Kurt Tiedt first saw the amphora process while traveling in Tuscany.
“I fell in love with the wine made using the amphora,” he says.
The clay vessels are a middle ground between oak and steel. They don’t impart any flavor to the wine the way the oak does, but because they are porous a small amount of oxygen is allowed in. This promotes the exchange of gasses which results in a softening of tannins.
“Our wines made using the amphorae are creamy, smooth and let the pure expression of the grape shine through,” Tiedt says. “They are fruit forward and not dry or acidic.”
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Wines made using an amphora allow the terroir to fully be expressed.
After being exposed to amphora wines, Tiedt bought his first amphora at a tradeshow in Napa launching a new chapter for Somerset Winery and winemaker David Raffaelle. Somerset is the only Southern California winery to use the clay vessels.
The winery is known for its Spanish and Rhone varietals and the two determined that a Syrah would be the first grape they’d test using the amphora. The 2018 Syrah was less tannic, and smoother with an earthier quality than Syrah made using traditional methods. With the success of the first bottling, Tiedt went all in on the amphorae program at the winery.
Today Somerset Winery has 11 large amphorae, including two of the four Drunk Turtle Italia vessels in the United States. These mammoth amphorae stand 9 ft. tall, weigh 10,000 lbs. when filled with wine and make 2,500 bottles. The winery also has 80 small amphorae that hold 10 bottles each. The different sizes and shapes give Raffaelle the ability to experiment and to try more varieties using the process.
CURRENT AMPHORA PORTFOLIO
Somerset Winery currently offers seven wines made using amphorae including; Barbera, Estate Tempranillo, Syrah, Blood of Jupiter (a Super Tuscan with 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Malbec), Mr. Tage (a Meritage style wine with 85 percent Cab Franc and 15 percent Malbec), 2019 Gabi Syrah and one white, the Amphora Blanca (a Spanish blend of 25 percent Macabeo, 25 percent Verdejo, 25 percent, Garnacha Blanca, and 25 percent Xarello).
This summer the winery will release a Petite Sirah in the lineup and bottle an Albarino and Nebbiolo.
VISIT SOMERSET WINERY
Located on Temecula’s De Portola Wine Trail, visitors can get a behind the scenes look at the Amphorae program, along with six tastes of wine, including one barrel sample, on tours offered on the weekends.
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If you’re visiting the area with a large group, consider staying onsite at the large Spanish-style estate house on property. With seven bedrooms and four baths, the expansive house on 12 acres in the middle of the vineyard can accommodate up to 16 guests.
Smaller groups and couples can still stay within vineyards at nearby Carter Estates Winery & Resort. The individual bungalows have a patio that overlooks the vines. Choose villa 21 for the best sunset views on property.
For entertainment, you don’t have to go far. Somerset is one of the most popular wineries to relax at on the weekends thanks to live music every Friday and Saturday night. Take a seat inside the tasting room, or grab a glass and head to the expansive gardens.
Somerset Winery gives wine lovers a chance to taste wine the way it tasted thousands of years ago, making it a truly unique stop on a Temecula tasting trip.