Barrel Making – Cooperage

As important as the grapes themselves, the barrels used for aging impart flavors into the wine.

Today’s barrels show little actual change in design and construction from those used by the Romans. Barrel-making and cooperage are arts unto themselves.

Barrel-making is an ancient craft.

Machines may help, but the skill, experience and judgment of the cooper is still essential. The two most common types of oak barrels used for winemaking are the American Oak and the French Oak barrel. The tighter grain French style barrels capture more of the natural oak character in the wine. The American barrels have less dense grain and let the wine breath easier.

Life Expectancy of a Wine Barrel

The average wine barrel has a useful life expectancy of about five years. After that time, the barrel has imparted the flavorings of the oak into the wine. Barrels can be restored, by shaving away several layers from the inside of the staves and re-charring the wood, or adding inner stay oak slates. This can extend the life of a barrel up to ten years, however the results are not the same as with new wood. For that reason, after the initial life cycle of the barrel, most wineries purge their old stock. Often these barrels are cut in half and sold as planters – not a very fitting end for a work of craftsmanship. 

Types of Wood Used For Wine Barrels

French Oak was once considered the most desirable wood for making wine barrels. Most French Oak comes from one or more of the forests planted in the days of Napoleon for ship building. Five of those forests are primarily used for wine barrel making. Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Trancais and Vosges forests produce woods with distinctive characteristics and winemakers select their barrels based on the desired effect for the finished wine. Early experiments with American Oak were not successful as the oak had too much influence on the content of the barrels. At first, the problem was believed to be with the wood itself. Later it was discovered that the difficulties were caused by the way the wood was prepared and the barrel constructed. Source:
Scroll to top