How much do you know about barrels? For example, did you know that in France, there are specific oak forests and each forest provides a different type of barrel, relative to its area? Choosing barrels is a more complicated process than most people assume. How complicated? Our Associate Winemaker, Renan Theilloux, gives us the details on just what’s involved in selecting our barrels:
- After choosing the region and forest, grain size is the next factor to consider. The grain size ranges from medium tight to tight to very tight, and this relates to the pore size of the oak, which is directly related to the tree growth. The faster the tree grows, the coarser the grain is. The porosity of the oak allows the air to be in contact of the wine, when the wine is in the barrel. This is what we call the micro-oxygenation of the wine, which helps to soften the tannins in the red wines and allows to builds complex aromas. A coarser grain allows a faster and bigger air exchange. For example, American oak has larger pores than French oak, so you will get more oxygen faster into the wine.
- Next, you consider toasting. Toasting is the process of burning the inside of the staves, to help provide extra aromatics to the wine. Available options are: light, light-med, med, med-heavy, heavy, extra heavy, as well as just toasted staves or toasted staves and heads. A more heavily toasted barrel will add a smokier, spicier taste.
- Water bent or fire bent is the next thing to choose. Water bent barrels saturate the wood first and then toast the barrel, allowing for the heat to penetrate deeper into the wood. In this case, the longer the wine is exposed to the barrel, the stronger the oak taste will get. With fire bent, your first year of toasting is the strongest, and as years go on, you get less and less toasted flavour.
- Barrel size is also important, as barrels range in size from 60 L to 1000 L. This is important because it determines the surface area to wine ratio, so there is less barrel influence with a larger barrel. Staves are something to consider as well. You can choose thick staves or thin staves, which is essentially how wide each plank is on the barrel. The wider the plank, the longer the barrel lasts, in theory.
Winemaking is such a rich and complex process and selecting your barrels is just one consideration. For more information on our winemaking practices, please visit our website at adamoestate.com.