Winemaking and the use of barrels goes back to the Iron Age when Romans marched into Gaul – what is now Western Europe – and eventually replaced their brittle and heavy Clay Amphorae with sturdier and less breakable wooden barrels which were then common throughout that region. They soon found that these barrels not only held wine nicely but also contributed to the flavors and aromatics of the wine.
Fast forward a couple thousand years and the use of barrels is still a mainstay in premium Winemaking and Spirits production across the globe. Barrels are still being used to store and age wine and spirits. They still impart their flavors and aromas and serve as great little oxidative chambers during aging but eventually the oak impact fades and the barrels are considered “neutral”. Much like the tea bag in my depression-era grandmother’s kitchen – after about the third or fourth go-around there’s not much left to get.
Barrels are also expensive and provide valuable cooperage, so it may not make sense financially or operationally to just get rid of them once they no longer provide oak flavor or aromatics. Luckily, Innerstave and its catalog of Oak Complements has several options available to get more mileage out of your barrels while still providing those delicious and coveted oak characters.
Barrel Innerstave is a complete oak system that is installed inside any Neutral Barrel to provide up to 100% New Oak impact. The installation involves removing the barrel head, attaching stainless steel Innersleeve stave brackets to the inside wall of the barrel then inserting premium stave materials into the brackets. The placement of the staves does not impede racking or stirring activities and can be cleaned with any standard barrel cleaning device. This system can be installed by a cooperage team and is completely customizable to match any barrel profile or wine style preference. The barrel head is then replaced, and the barrel can then be used to ferment wines or age wines and spirits exactly as you would with any standard barrel.
Another option for refreshing the oak in a Neutral Barrel is through the use of Innerstave’s Chain of Oak. These 8’ long chains consist of 1 1/8 x 1 1/8 x ½” squares threaded onto a stainless-steel cable. The system is installed through the bunghole and attached to the bottom of the bung with a stainless-steel eyehook. Each chain provides 50% New Barrel Impact and can be fully customized. It’s a super simple design that is easy to install and does not bind up and get stuck in the barrel the way some other designs do which makes the person who orders these chains very popular with the cellar crew.
Another method for introducing new oak impact to Neutral Barrels is a method that I have employed many times in the past. Pre-oaking the wine in tanks provides the desired oak aromas, flavors and textures prior to barreling down. This way the oak is already in your wine or spirit and the Neutral Barrel is used as a storage/aging vessel only. Aging in Neutral Barrels then allows the oak to fully integrate while the wine or spirit evolves during aging. This is particularly effective for larger programs and requires less overall labor than other methods.
As barrels age and the oak impact fades, as long as proper barrel maintenance and hygiene are maintained, this considerable winery investment can still provide significant value. No matter how many barrels you have or how long you plan to use them, Innerstave has some great options to help refresh your oak impact and get the most out of your barrel inventory. As the old saying goes, ” When in Rome…”
-Jason Dodge, Managing Director, Winemaking