In the past, chestnut, walnut, pine, cherry, and other woods have been used to make barrels to age wine. But oak is simply the most effective than other wood. Oak calms and matures the wine and makes it soft on the palate and beautiful to drink. Oak makes the wine more interesting and gives depth and complexity that cannot evolve on its own. Typically the oak tree cannot be harvested until it is 100 years old. The Cooper’s hand splits the wood and leaves it outdoors, exposing to the elements of sun and rain for 2 to 3 years. During the exposure, most of the undesired tannins are pulled out leaving the wood with softer tannins to be added into wine.
Parts of a barrel:
Stave: wooden strips which are used to make a barrel.
Hoops: metal rings which are used to surround the barrel. These are attached with rivets.
Bilge: bilge is the widest part of the barrel.
Head: both flat ends of a barrel are stamped with a cooperage’s logo typically. American oak barrels are toasted and French oak barrels are not.
Bing hole: the small opening of barrel generally closed with a stopper. It allows the sampling of wine and moving wine from one barrel to another.
Steps to make oak barrels:
- The initial step for barrel construction is the staves i.e. long pieces of oak.
- The exact shape of staves matters a lot. The shape is vital because when the staves are brought together the barrel must be watertight without applying any glue or mechanical fixers.
- When the barrel is under construction some heat is utilized to bend the staves in conjunction with pressure from metal hoops. Then the head of barrel is cut into the shape.
- After the construction of barrel, it is toasted over the flame. The flavor of the wine which will be stored in the barrel depends on the levels of toasting. Toasting makes the staves slightly charred.
- The hoops are eliminated from the middle of the barrel after toasting and the outer side is sanded. Now hoops are reapplied and knocked into the position.
Making of the silver oak barrel:
Set up: the master cooper chooses optimal staves to make a silver oak barrel. Every barrel has 32 staves arranged carefully in a specific pattern.
Bending: each barrel is warmed over the fire to bend the staves and give the barrel shape without cracking the wood. When the outer side of barrel reaches 300 degrees F, temporary hoops are kept on the barrel by a hydraulic machine. It forces the barrel into proper shape.
Toasting: next step is toasting. Now the shapes barrel again kept on a fire for toasting. Approximately 40-minute medium light toasting is preferred for silver oak barrels. Toasting crystallizes natural sugars in wood, releases freshly baked bread and roasted marshmallows aromas. Then freshly toasted barrel is checked for quality and after that closed by round barrel head.
Hooping: now the temporarily applied hoops are removed and replaced by permanent galvanized steel hoops on both ends. The outer side of the barrel is sanded and a smooth and pristine finish is created. Then final hoops are hammered and nailed on.
The final touch: the finished barrel is iron branded with oak cooperage logo and sanded again to remove any scruff marks before shipping.