Located just outside of Courtenay in the Comox Valley, 40 Knots was purchased in 2014 by its current owners – Layne Robert Craig and Brenda Hetman-Craig – who immediately set about making significant changes to vineyard management focusing on regenerative agriculture, and acquiring gold-level Sustainable Tourism certification. Their Dall sheep, Pinot and Gris, are responsible for mowing and ground cover, while the gaggle of geese take care of the weeds and bugs.
However, one of the most interesting things about this winery is their decision to age an increasing percentage of their wines in 800 litre handmade, Italian terracotta amphorae. Yes, that’s not a typo – 800. Do you know how big that is? It’s b i g.
Now, ageing wine in clay is not a new idea – it’s been around for about 6,000 years. However, it’s not necessarily attempted by that many winemakers – the amphorae can be expensive (whether made of clay or concrete) and let’s face it – the shipping can be a pain. It also seems that during a global pandemic, sometimes getting one’s order filled can be, well, impossible.
But why pick clay over oak or stainless steel? The former allows for oxygen to reach the wine and tannin from the wood can affect the wine as well, whereas the latter offers an oxygen-free environment and doesn’t impart any flavors into the wine. Terracotta clay is porous like oak so allows oxygen to affect the wine’s texture, but like steel, it’s neutral and doesn’t impart flavours.
40 Knots is not ageing everything they produce in amphorae, but Layne is not afraid to experiment with options and alternatives. This is evident in their wide array of offerings ranging from bubbles, to oaked and unoaked whites, reds of all stripes, and some unique dessert and port-style treats. Just as an example, the Trie Emily is a vin de curé made from dried grapes. Yes, essentially a strohwine on Vancouver Island.