by Graham Pierrepoint
The recipe to a good wine will, of course, lie with only the best wine-makers in the world. Wine tasting culture is as big as it’s ever been, with wineries and vineyards across France, through Australia and South America providing international grape fermentation on a colossal scale. Only those really into their red, white and rose can really tell the difference from bottle to bottle – but it’s safe to say that even the least discerning of drinkers will be able to note a distinct difference in the way that Orestes Estevez’ wine, fermented at El Canal in Cuba, is cultivated.
The Estevez family use a concoction of various ingredients such as hibiscus and ginger – but it is what is used to help seal in the mixture that is making such a splash. El Canal seal their bottles with condoms – you read correctly – which are used to help gauge when fermentation is complete and when there are no more gases to be produced during the process. The staff simply watch condoms inflate while sealed over the fermenting bottles and proceed to the next stage of wine-making once, as Orestes Estevez himself states, the condom ‘stands up’ – this, according to the master fermenter, is when ‘the wine is ready’.
El Canal started life humbly as a backyard fermenting unit some seventeen years ago, having since expanded to become something of a local neighborhood attraction. They have approximately 300 separate 20-liter jugs of wine to attend to at any one time, over a process of 45 days – selling their wine at affordable rates for those who cannot afford wine imported from overseas. Many local people, therefore, have flocked to El Canal to sample the fermentation at a fraction of the rate they may expect in stores.
El Canal’s intriguing use of condoms to help measure the fermentation process is one which likely keeps them in good stead – it is the mark of a country which occasionally has to improvise to some ends due to the lack of trade with the US – and for the family firm’s many regular visitors and local wine aficionados, you cannot say that this slightly left-field gas-measuring system doesn’t produce worthwhile results! Will capping wine with condoms catch on elsewhere in the world? For home brewers, it may well be a handy trick to look out for!