Orange wine? What the heck is this? Is it made from oranges? Why does it look like that? WHAT? It’s not made from oranges. Don’t worry. We’re going to get to the bottom of this. Then you’ll have a little awesome context next time you crack the top of your next Acapulco Swim Club bottle.
Wondering where this trend came from? Why are all the hipsters and wine nerds flocking to this mysteriously colored juice? Who came up with this new, kooky idea? Well, it turns out making orange wine is nothing new, in fact, it’s a technique that’s even older than the making of some other old-world varietals such as Syrah or Riesling. Orange wine has been made in The Caucasus Mountains of Georgia for over 6,000 years.
First, let’s get to the bottom of what actually makes something an orange, or skin-contact wine. The color of all wines depends on the time the wine's juice is left to macerate with its skins. Generally, in the white wine-making process, the grapes are pressed directly after being picked, and the skins, seeds, and stems are discarded. When we make an orange wine, we take the white grapes, and subject them to something like the red wine making process: once the fruit is crushed, it is then fermented with the seeds, skins and stems (also known as the ‘must) and left with them for the desired number of days. The longer the contact with the must, the more intense the color will be.
Assyrian Monks in Georgia began packing crushed grapes into qvervi, large egg-shaped Terracotta clay pots, with their stems and all, and then burying them underground for natural refrigeration. This provided a longer maceration period for the juice and skins, that would have spoiled the wine if left above ground. The extended maceration also helps develop an increase in aroma and flavor profiles in qvervi wines. Farming families and communities all over the area began to carry out these practices and pass on through generations. Super cool, right? So, where’d they go for so long?
With their lack of electric refrigeration years and years ago, this skin-contact technique was a way of extracting color, tannin and other oxygen-scavenging elements in order to preserve the wine the best they could. Once refrigeration was on the scene, people were able to start making more “polished” and technically “correct” white wines, and sometime around the start of the 20th Century, they were being produced on a much larger scale. This largely erased the culture of this ancient tradition for economic favor (you know…capitalism).
In the last 20 or so years, orange wine has come back into popularity, and the heritage of its tradition is being honored. Winemakers in Slovenia, Friuli and Croatia were inspired by the culture of the Georgians, and have now been making orange wine for hundreds of years, and are now returning to their roots and gaining recognition. In 2013 Qvervi wine-making tradition was also inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List to mark its intangible connection to Georgian culture and humanity.
And now here we are in good ‘ole California! At Tank, we’ve been making orange wine since 2015 with the 2016 release of van Zyl (named after our awesome wine maker), and we’ve never looked back. They are so fun to make and to taste, with the range of grape skins giving off such a kaleidoscope of different textures, aromas, and flavors. Skin-contact wines can really range in color from very light, pale amber like our 2021 Trousseau Gris, Occhiali da Sole to a much deeper and more vibrant hue, like our most recent orange exploration with Acapulco Swim Club. We recommend serving most skin-contact wines in a cool but not cold temperature range: around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so that you’re able to experience the whole expression of its aromatics and awesome-ness.
Oh, and orange wines LOVE food. Once they are paired with a cheese plate, all is right in the world. These wines can often hold up to more robust and bold flavors, so don’t be shy, buy those funky cheeses and get weird. It also provides an ideal middle ground when deciding between red and white: still offering that refreshing light quality but providing more texture and tannin.
New to the world of orange wine? We suggest starting with something easy and approachable like the aforementioned Occhiali da Sole, which received 2 days of skin maceration, as opposed to the 9 days that was executed for Acapulco Swim Club. Both are absolutely killer, and perfect for summer. Also check out our other orange blend, Love Saves the Day, if you want something right in the middle! Crack ‘em open with your friends and give them the history lesson they didn’t know they needed!