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Wine barrels, especially those made of oak, have long been used as containers in which wine is typically aged. Aging in oak typically imparts desirable vanilla, butter and spice flavors to wine. The barrels that are used for storing wine can vary in size, but the most common are barriques.

French Oak was for many years considered especially desirable for use in constructing wine barrels. In France, Oak typically comes from one or more primary forests: Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Troncais and Vosges. The wood from each of these forests has slightly different characteristics. For example, tightly grained wood tends to impart its flavors more slowly than does that which is loosely grained. Winemakers can select wood from different forests to influence how their wine ages.

Early experiments using American Oak as well as oak from many other countries, were disappointing because the oak imparted too much flavor to the wine. It was assumed at first that the difficulty lie with the oak. However, experimentation revealed that the problem was in the preparation of the wood and the way the barrels were constructed.


While oak barrels are generally used for aging wine, they can also be used for fermentingOne major difference in preparing the oak was that French coopers aged the wood for at least two years whereas American coopers used a kiln-dry method to season the wood. A second major difference was that French coopers split the wood whereas Americans sawed the staves.

 

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Recoop  ± Manufacturing
2010 Barlow Ln, Sebastopol, CA 707 829-7103
 
 
Barrel Shop Manufacturing
5353 Broadway St, American Canyon, CA 94503-9678
707  553-9807

Canton Cooperage Co
600 Mcdonald Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 707 836-9742

Canton Wood Sales Office
5793 Skylane Blvd # B, Windsor, CA 707 836-9742

Innerstave
21660 8th St E, Sonoma, CA 707 996-8781

Tonnellerie Radoux USA Inc
480 Aviation Blvd, Santa Rosa, CA 707 284-2888

 
 
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Once the French barrel building techniques were applied to Oak from other countries, the results improved substantially. It is now common to find American Oak as well as that of several other countries including Hungary in the construction of wine barrels. Barrels made from American Oak typically cost less than half the price of French Oak Barrels and are now capable of achieving similar results."

Winemakers can order barrels with the wood on the inside of the barrel having been lightly charred or “toasted” with fire, medium toasted, or heavily toasted. The amount (depth) of charring has an influence on the wine. The decision regarding depth of charring is made on the basis of the grape variety used and style of wine desired. Barrels can also be ordered in different shapes and sizes or ordered made of Redwood or other woods.

New barrels impart more flavors than do previously used barrels. By the time they have been used for about five years, they impart virtually no flavor to wine. Therefore, winemakers must decide on the ratio of new to older barrels to use each year.

Barrels are expensive and several techniques have been devised in an attempt to save money. One is to shave the inside of used barrels and insert new thin inner staves that have been toasted. Another is to place bags containing oak shaving into tanks of wine.
 
 
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