Our Barrel Room, Cellar Room, & Member’s Pavilion, all have barrels lining the walls. I’m sure you’ve noticed on any visit the beautiful aesthetic they add to our property… but did you know they’re functional, as well? That’s right. Those barrels are all full of aging wine. Notice the cooler temperatures in those rooms, too? Yep— For the benefit of the wine! As someone pretty new to wine myself, when I first saw these barrels, I was amazed to find out they were actually developing to a finish all around me— but I thought that was all wine. Nope! It’s actually a strategy winemaker’s use to enhance different flavors & tannin levels in their wine.
So, because they can play such a big role in winemaking, I thought it would be helpful to give a few fun facts about barrels & how they relate to the wine process.
1. Oak is toasted before being used to age wine.
When I say toasted, I mean it. They literally toast the inside of the barrel like a golden marshmallow; exposing the barrel to an open flame without direct contact, until they reach their desired result. The level of toasting actually has a lot to do with the different flavor profiles present in the wine, as well. A lighter toast will often give notes of vanilla, marshmallows & coconut; medium toasts can offer notes of spices like cinnamon, cloves or brown sugar; & darker toasts tend to give notes of roasted coffee, wood smoke & chocolate. Oak from different regions can change the end result of the wine.
2. Oak from different regions can change the end result of the wine.
The two most popular oaks are American & French. Of course, there are others from many other regions of the world, however these are the ones most often used in winemaking. American oak tends to offer more intense flavors & less integrated tannin levels, while French oak often gives lighter tasting notes & gives more of an elegant tannin.
2. There is a difference between New & Old Oak.
When you see something similar to “Aged 14 months, 25% New” on a wine profile, this is exactly what it’s referring to. Oak can be used brand new, or reused over & over again. Oak barrels can actually last up to 100 years, so it’s not uncommon for them to be reused. However, as time passes & wine filters in & out of the barrel, the oak begins to lose its flavor. This isn’t always a bad thing, though— It can be exactly what the wine needs.
3. Barrel size matters.
Smaller barrels are more commonly used. This is because the smaller the barrel, the more contact between oak & wine, offering more room to breathe through the wood. Ultimately, this gives the wine a stronger essence of oak, in addition to the flavor profiles toasted barrels can bring. In contrast, larger barrels give less oak influence due to the smaller amount of wine that touches the surface of the barrel.
Hopefully, now you have a better idea of the influence oak can bring to the wine you’re drinking. Even having no influence (“Not oaked” on a wine profile) plays a role in your wine! Essentially, knowing this information can be useful the next time you’re tasting wine. Those wine profiles I mentioned are available for all of our wines on this very website, & should be available in some form or another at any winery you visit, as well. If you decide you want a lighter wine or a certain flavor profile you’re looking for, now you know what to avoid or actually pay attention to. You’re welcome!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop