Terroir Clay And Wine

Terroir clay vessels at Yangarra

Specializing in clay vessels for contemporary winemaking  and wine tasting 

A little over a year ago I heard an ABC radio report that someone had made some good wine in an old amphora and was trying to find more amphorae. I am an experienced potter and this notion incubated for  a couple of months and led to an epiphany. What if I used local clay from the winegrowers farm for the production of amphorae as a method of communicating the notion (as I understood it) of terroir? I rang my friend, the drinks writer Philip White to discuss my idea. Philip, as well as being one of my oldest friends, is a creative encyclopaedia of wine industry knowledge, practice and aesthetics. When I told Philip of my concept the phone was silent for an unusually long time and eventually he said “I think it is a great idea”. It was through his recommendation then that I met Peter Fraser at Yangarra wines.

I have been working with Yangarra Wines at Mclarenvale, South Australia for a year now. They have been a marvellous client and a receptive sounding board for my ideas on winemaking vessels. At Yangarra I found people who took me very seriously and  understood that somehow we were at the cutting edge of winemaking practice. They were fascinated by my pictures of ancient  pots, websites of obscure winemaking practice and  the possibilities of clay and wine. Yangarra recently took possession of the first terroir clay vessels ever made, specifically for their Roussanne and Grenache. These will be buried in soil in forklift able tubs and cellared. I await the cellared wine with unbridled curiosity.

Finding and mining local clays is not really viable or easy (trust me, I know because I have tried it) and my idea evolved into a highly controlled addition of site specific soil samples to an already prepared and standard clay body. Fired to maturity the clay I use is harder,  more durable and less porous than the softer vessels of antiquity. What I seem to be discovering is that additions of different soils create a different clay body (naturally) and these differences, such as more ferruginous or silicious, for instance can be detected by educated palettes.

Late in 2013 I entered this project in the National Craft Awards where I made the finals, my entry is at



A fascinating offshoot of this project for me has been the making of unglazed clay cups and carafes for wine and as my daughter suggested there is something biblical  about them. They provide a different tasting environment and sensual experience when compared to  drinking from a glass and indeed I find myself preferring to drink wine and water from such cups. Water tastes somehow sweeter and wine “softer” with the volatile corners of a young  wine, for instance apparently settling down. As to why? I do not really know yet, but my theory is that  the interior of these cups is a humid place, the rougher surface of the interior offers a large surface area that holds the wine and allows it to breathe and so the wine is evaporating more than in a glass. Possibly the ion exchange between the wine and the tongue is altered  by the different environment. Tasters have also observed different wine characteristics of the same wine when the terroir of the cup was altered.

If you are interested in ordering some Terroir Clay Wine Vessels or have a  media enquiry  please email me at john@johnullinger.com

Philip Whites take on this is at