One of the most interesting excursions Wine-Knows Travel organizes on several of our wine trips is an outing to a barrel-maker. I’ve visited numerous ones around the globe and each time I continue to be mesmerized by the process. Below is a recap of how a barrel is produced.
The procedure begins outside where cut planks cut from oak wood ("staves") are dried and aged for periods of 18-36 months. This seasoning rids the wood from water and tightens the grains.
Drying of the wood is a critically important first step.
Next, the aged staves are cut with precision using a computer. As there are no adhesives used, it is critical that all parts of the barrel fit together perfectly to ensure a faultlessly tight seal.
Dried staves & a metal hoop begin to form the neonatal barrel.
Additional metal hoops are used to apply pressure in the shaping process:
The "head" of the barrel is next carefully prepared.
The barrel's head is also cut using laser-beam accuracy to prevent any leakage.
The barrel is now placed over a fire.
Heat is also used for “toasting.” Winemakers can order “light,” “medium,” or “heavy” toast.
Different toasts add different flavors & aromas to wine.
The charred barrel is now ready for the final phase of finishing by the addition of new metal rings.
The final shaping is extremely labor intensive & requires great strength.
But, the barrel's interior also undergoes intense final scrutiny.
A toasted barrel is prepared for its other head.
Exterior decorative touches such as a chestnut rim may be added.
Traditional chestnut rims are expensive but are thought to protect against pests.
Bottom heads are finally added to complete the package.
This Bordeaux barrel is almost ready for sale.
Everything in the barrel's construction is expensive---from the aging of the wood to the skill required by numerous artisans who are involved in its birthing. Now you know why France's oak barrels sell for nearly $1,000 each. If you're among the lucky travelers who are coming on the harvest tour to Bordeaux next September, at Chateau Haut Brion you will be able to view the barrel-making process as this chateau has its own workshop.