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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.
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.