Q & A with Winemaker Matt Compton
Why use a wine barrel? What do barrels do for each wine?
Oak barrels used for making wine serve a few important purposes, adding flavors (spice, tannin and roasted notes) slowly adding oxygen to the wine (which helps aging) along with concentration to the wines from evaporation.
What kind of oak do you use? Where do the trees come from? Why use a variety of coopers?
A majority of the wood used for wine barrels are different species of white oak. The most common oak forest throughout the world are in America, France, Hungary and Russia. Each forest has its own flavors and tannin levels, so each one is often used for different wines. Most Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays use French Oak for the softer silky tannins where American oak is a firmer tannin that does well with Cabernets. Each forest gives different flavors along with each cooper (a maker of barrels) has their own roasting technique that influences flavors as well. We mostly use all French Oak for our Pinot Noir’s but get diversity in flavors from using different barrel makers.
What do the markings on the ends of the barrels mean? How many uses do each barrel get? Please tell us the difference between new and neutral oak and why you would use each?
When purchasing barrels from different coopers we can select which French forest along with toasting level of the wood (medium toast to heavy) and if we want the heads of the barrel toasted or stay green. Each of these decisions have an influence on how the wine tastes. The barrel shows most of the flavors when it is new, then becomes less imparting of flavors with each use. After 4 years of use we consider a barrel to be “neutral” which means the wine is not being impacted by the roast of the barrel and most of the spice flavors have been used from the wood. These neutral barrels are a large part of our production because it shows the true flavor of the grapes. Neutral barrels still give the oxygen exchange to help with aging, and concentration from the slow evaporation.
What do you do for barrel maintenance? What is wet storage?
Once the wine is removed, the barrels are washed with hot water to remove the sediment inside. If the barrel is not refilled with wine right away we add an acid – SO2 solution to the barrel to prevent spoilage of the barrel when not in use for wine storage.