If It's About Eggs
We Must Be in Petaluma...
Before the Squares and the Conicals and the Towers and the Tea Cups... it WAS about eggs, and we were indeed in the town once known as the egg capital of the world. These were concrete eggs, though, and in 2010 Sonoma Cast Stone was already one of the leading manufacturers of architectural concrete fixtures in the world.
As fate would have it, we were also right in the heart of the California Wine Country, and it turns out that most of the world's finest wines are made in concrete!
• Ten years and a thousand tanks later...
From the first egg that we sold to Thomas George Estates in 2010, we have always had great pride and confidence in our concrete wine tanks. We are determined that no one will ever out-engineer Sonoma Cast Stone, and to this day, we are still the only manufacturer with a ten-year guarantee against cracking and leaking. Under the stewardship of Dave Jensen, Director of Research & Development, the formulation and quality of our concrete itself is unmatched.
Sonoma Cast Stone remains the only concrete vessel manufacturer to have our concrete analyzed by the FDA and determined safe for use in wine fermentation and aging.
• One idea over dinner, more ideas over lunch.
Sonoma Cast Stone founder, Steve Rosenblatt, is himself the proud owner of a Sonoma County vineyard, "Octagon". During a fateful dinner in 2008, a winemaker friend of Steve's, Don Van Staaveren, became the inevitable conduit from Steve's concrete to the California Wine Industry. Winemaker for Three Sticks Winery, Don shared what he knew about concrete and winemaking, and got a typically entreprenurial reaction from Steve. Steve began looking at the concrete wine tanks which were currently in use and soon reached a determination that his team at Sonoma Cast Stone could do better.
Don had been using concrete tanks from France and thought that it was foolish to be paying for ocean freight when he knew that his neighbor (Steve) was in the concrete business. He tookSteve to a few wineries that had concrete Nomblot Eggs and then set-up a lunch meeting in the Sonoma Cast Stone conference room for seven regional winemakers who had experience with concrete tanks.
This group had lunch and spent the afternoon describing the ideal tank having learned from the problems they had with the French tanks. Project Coordinator, Carl Finney, Production/Purchasing Manage, Jose Hernandez and Steve all made meaningful suggestions,then Carl took everything from that meeting and began design work.
• The best time to do it???
Casting Manager, Mauricio Hernandez, recalls that when Steve brought his idea about taking-on a new market to the company staff, "80% did not believe what Steve was saying would come true about producing wine tanks." At this time, the world was reeling from the most profound economic reversal since the early 30's. Sonoma Cast Stone was hit hard. Competing in a different arena would mean great risk and great expense, new molds, new equipment; Sonoma Cast Stone did not have the equipment to move a concrete egg, let alone make one. The learning curve would be enormously expensive. Capital ventures were nonexistant, investors were not investing.
Steve's position was, "This is the best time to do it! If we wait for a better moment, somebody else will do it, not us, and then we will lament for not having taken the chance."
• From the desk of Carl Finney.
At Sonoma Cast Stone, when one of Steve's ideas leaves the station, Carl Finney's desk is its first stop along the road to reality. At this time, concrete eggs were the exclusive province of Nomblot, a French company. Steve concluded that their product left much to be desired. He tasked Carl with filling that gap and designing a better egg than the company which had been making them for ten years. Carl recalls of the French tanks, "They were pretty rough looking, only basic concrete color, and the interiors were crude and not truly egg shaped. They also were known for cracking and leaking, and we were determined to avoid that reputation with a truly superior product."
• A daunting task, and a better egg.
To perfect the shape and settle on a size, Carl started working on the geometry, using classic egg design proportions. Mauricio made a 24-inch scale model by hand with a stainless steel base. This helped determine that integral concrete legs would be the way to go. Once Carl started working on the 3D model, the design went through many iterations.
To achieve a smoother, more attractive tank, available in any color, while still keeping the interior free of additives, and at the same time inhibiting cracking, Carl conceived and implemented a technique that has still not been duplicated. By spraying fiber-reinforced concrete in the outer mold and building up the thickness, the tank could have the classic showroom beauty that Sonoma Cast Stone was already known for, in any color, and with unmatched durability. That idea is the reason why we have both the strongest and the most beautiful tanks in the world.
Layering the concrete would also give us an inner surface to attach temperature control (glycol) tubing. Then the inner mold could be inserted, and the rest of the mold space filled/ interlocked with plain wetcast concrete. It worked. This process also led Carl to the inspiration of using radiant floor heating tubing for the glycol. This tough tubing ensures that glycol never leaks into the concrete.
Untold hours went into designing the mold, which is actually in 4 parts. There were adventures in having the full-size foam pattern machined and coated, then in having the fiberglass molds made up, reinforced with steel plate inserts and turning trunnions. Then came perfecting the casting process and developing the specialized equipment needed.
• And now...
In the ensuing decade, both Steve Rosenblatt and Sonoma Cast Stone have been recognized for inspired design and superior engineering in the production of concrete wine tanks... which you can now find all over the world. Our concrete NuBarrel® is changing the way winemakers think about, not just fermenting wine in concrete, but aging wine in concrete. This opens the billion-dollar barrel market for exploration. The most recent milestone was our new partnership with Sas Prefabricados De Hormigon, in Barcelona.
We've grown far beyond the simple egg. You can now find the quality of wine made in concrete and the quality of concrete made by Sonoma Cast Stone in many shapes and sizes of concrete wine tanks from 240-gallons to 23,000 gallons.
But it was never really about the egg. It was about making better wine.