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All about wine barrels ... sort of

Here you’ll find all you need to know about wine barrels.  Okay, maybe it’s not everything you need to know but we'll give you a little insight into their structure and a tidbit of information on the world of wine barrels that you might not have known without reading a book on the subject.  In other words, this is the abridged version … very abridged.

 

The wine barrels we use are made of oak - as are almost all wine barrels. The oak comes from generally two regions, France and the United States, with those primarily coming from Missouri.  A smaller quantity also comes from Eastern Europe. Most wood for barrel making are of the white oak variety.

 

Without going into a long dissertation on the why and wherefores, French oak offers wine more subtle nuances while American oak is made for the more robust and commanding wines. Cooperages are the businesses that actually make wood staves and bands into barrels. Oak is used for its powerful strength but more importantly to affect grapes with a buttery spice flavor which translates well to wine. This is another way of saying, oak makes wine taste better.

Structure

As far as the construction of the barrel, one part of the barrel is the bung hole, where the wine enters and exits the center of the vessel or bilge (the widest portion). Not every barrel is the same but essentially they have six metal bands or more accurately hoops that hold the staves together – staves are the wooden curved pieces that give the shape to the barrel. There are three hoops on each end: the bilge hoop next to center, the quarter hoop and also the head hoop which is near or at the end of the barrel. The flat elliptical end of each barrel is called a head which has a beveled edge or chime to hold the head in place with the staves. The staves have grooves in them also called croze that the head sits into to help keep them in the chime and vice versa ... kind of like a puzzle.

Old BarrelsTo hold the hoops in their proper position, there are usually hoop nails that aid in maintaining the bands in place to hold the barrel together.  Note, some folks who rebuild barrels don't replace the hoop nails, and instead use rivets or finish nails. We use only authentic hoop nails on all our renovated wine barrels. If any non-hoop nails appear on your wine barrel, it's either because it was placed there before we acquired the barrel or you have an imposter. 

We admit to having full knowledge of the workings of a barrel in-part for all the wrong reasons. We have taken barrels apart accidentally - in-turn learning what we can take off and what we can't take off. Think of a comedic routine when envisioning what it's like when a barrel comes apart.

   

The most common barrel size is what they call Bordeaux or Burgundy style. They hold roughly 58 to 60 gallons (there are many other sizes) and when new, can run from a low of $800 all the way up to the thousands. Yes, one barrel can be worth $4,000 … or even more! Barrels are used for several years with a handful of vintages coming and going. Once these old barrels have had their flavors used up, they no longer are of value and end up as kindling or at best, made into planters.

 

Aren’t you glad you read this and now know something that not very many know? You’re welcome. Now you need to show off that knowledge and buy a barrel for that special someone. Or might that special someone be you?


 

"When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze." - Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle

 


Mid-fall sunrise in wine country
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