Everything Old is New Again: Amphorae Wine at Trofeo Estate
Updated: Jun 25
Trofeo Estate on the Mornington Peninsula is the largest producer of terracotta wine in the Southern Hemisphere. Fermented and matured in amphora, Jim and Kathy Manolios and their team's passion for wine led them to explore alternative winemaking methods. Jim spoke to us about viticulture, his Greek heritage and the pursuit of producing wine in its purest form.
How has your Greek heritage influenced your passion for winemaking, and how have you adapted this to the Victorian context?
Winemaking is all about my Greek heritage, I think it’s also a gene memory! I remember from about the age of 7 going every Easter to one of my Uncle’s houses where everyone gathered to make wine. The grapes were delivered there for everyone, he had his garage specially set up, the kids helped stomp the wine, then they put the Must into small barrels or plastic containers, took it to each person’s home and filled their barrels. This process started on Friday and finished Sunday night They worked around the clock, as kids we would fall asleep eventually, wake up in the morning and they were still at it. My Auntie’s kitchen was churning out food constantly and there was continuous ‘sampling’ happening, as a kid I loved the smells and the purpose of it all. The first time the family went to Greece I was sixteen, one of my Uncles worked in the wine co-op on the island (Samos), he showed me around and again it was that aroma that attracted me the most.
As I grew older (twenty) I started to get into wine and as a budding biochemist understood the process. My father and I would have long discussions, back then he was still actively making wine (he’s ninety-six this month) and we would discuss different techniques, styles and problems. The family would always drink their wines too early so the barrels would empty quite quickly, there was much to discuss!
At fifty I woke up one morning and decided I just had to do this and now. I enrolled in a post-graduate viticulture course at Melbourne University and spent a couple of years learning about vines, wines and everything in between. We had a 50-acre farm in Dromana that I wanted to plant on, then The Estate came up as a derelict vineyard and I was away.
I found out recently that I come from a long line of wine makers stretching back at least four generations, that’s where the gene memory comes from!
What led you to fermenting wine in amphorae? And how did you transition from researching this process to becoming the largest producer of terracotta amphora wine in the Southern Hemisphere?
I was doing a University project on different ways to ferment and age wine, everyone in the class was doing barrels and concrete eggs which were taking off at the time. I cruised the Internet for alternatives and happened across the reintroduction of amphorae in modern wine making. I wrote up my paper which as a biochemist had ignited my curiosity as to the attributes of amphorae in wine making. Then when we bought The Estate I made the decision to use amphora instead of barrels. This was a big risk at the time, using amphorae to make French varietals, so we started by making 80%-barrel wine and 20% Amphora, then 60/40, then 10/90 and now 100% of all varieties. Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, the lot. We have 104 amphorae and make 50-100,000 bottles a year depending on the vintage. There is no official score but anecdotally we are by far the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world, (although at 100,000 bottles a year that’s not saying much in world terms).
L-R: Pinot processing at Trofeo Estate; Winemaker Richard Darbey; Terracotta Amphora. Images © Trofeo Estate
What is unique about fermenting and aging wine in amphora – and where do you source the amphora from?
Where do I start! We source our amphorae from Impruneta just outside of Florence in Italy. They have made terracotta products there for thousands of years and the clay has some unique properties that are ideal for wine making. Furthermore, our supplier Artenova has focused on Integrating the stainless steel fittings needed for modern wine making into the tops of the amphora.
Terracotta is clay and the clay used in our amphorae has some unique properties for wine making. Firstly, it has a high calcium content, with the wall of the amphora acting like a membrane the calcium transports water out of the amphora and oxygen in, the greater the difference in humidity between the outside and inside, the more moisture is transported out. This process concentrates our wine and promotes micro oxygenation. The Florentine clay is also high in aluminium, which is a natural antibacterial agent (hence it’s use in antiperspirants), combined with the inert nature of the terracotta this means we use far less sulphur in our wine making. Sulphur is used as a preservative however it dulls the subtle aromas and flavours of the wine, the more you use the more you dull the wine.
The shape of the amphora is also important, you can put the same must pressed at the same time into 2 seemingly identical amphorae and create two quite different flavour profiles. The thickness of the walls, the total capacity all have a role to play. All our amphorae are handmade and vary in size and shape quite significantly, we use this to our advantage. Originally amphorae were put in the ground, where they kept their contents cool and at a stable temperature. We store them in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. By moving the amphorae around in the room we can alter the humidity and temperature thus controlling the concentration of flavours. There’s a lot more we’ve learned about terracotta wine making which just goes to show how much the ancients had to teach us!
How would you describe your viticulture philosophy at Trofeo Estate?
We try to produce pure wine. To do this we need pure grapes, we don’t use herbicides, pesticides, or inorganic fertilizers in our vineyard. We are going for organic certification this year and transition to biodynamic viticulture. I don’t really like putting a label on it as we really mix and match to suit our vineyard. For example, to my best knowledge we were the first vineyard on the Peninsula to use sheep as mowers. During winter we put over 100 sheep into our vines, they do a fantastic job of manicuring everything whilst composting the grass and weeds. We are blessed with a marine microclimate on the Peninsula with a nice breeze every day around 4 o’clock. The breeze and salt air keep our disease load down naturally. We spray with sulphur and that’s about it. We use pheromone traps to control moths that can be pests and a ‘twister’ to pull out the weeds around the base of our vines (when the sheep aren’t there). We are constantly working to improve the biomass of our sandy loam and improve its moisture and trace element holding capacity. It’s more labour intensive than conventional viticulture but the reward is healthy grapes with no chemical residues inside or out.
What other sights, sounds and tastes complement amphora fermented and matured wine at Trofeo Estate?
Amphora wine is generally softer on the palate (no harshness from the oak), quite aromatic and fruity. Our wines suit fresh produce prepared to hero their innate flavours. If it’s fresh and prepared with the focus on flavour our amphora wine will enhance the experience by complimenting the natural flavours of the food. I love sitting on our deck watching nature go by and enjoying our wines, they are of our natural environment. Sometimes the local kangaroos will come by, sometimes it’s the ducks, our wines are in harmony with their home. No matter where they go they are taking a little of the Mornington Peninsula with them for others to enjoy.
L-R: Jim Manolios at Amphora Wine day in Portugal; Trofeo Estate Winery; Grazing platter at Trofeo estate. Images © Trofeo Estate