July 6, 2023 by
Maytte Rivera

A cooper is a craftsperson who makes and repairs wooden barrels, and the place where they perform their skill is known as a cooperage.  They are an essential part of the wine industry, and winemakers believe a specific cooper’s barrel making techniques can have significant impact on the flavors and longevity of a wine. 

The preferred wood used to create barrels for wine ageing is white oak, since it provides suitable flavors, malleability and durability, although redwood, chestnut, and acacia are also used in a minor scale.  These barrels are charred on the inside, providing the wine with flavors of vanilla, cloves, and toast among others, along with the astringency of tannins.  The effect on the wine will depend in part on how young the barrels are, the type of oak and char used, and how long the wine spends in contact with the wood.  After around four years of use, the flavors in the oak barrels diminish greatly, but they help to round up the components in the wine, making them more supple. 

French and American oak are the most popular woods used to age wine, with Hungarian and Slovenian oak gaining favor amongst enologists.  French oak has a fine grain that gives subtle flavors of cocoa, coffee, and savory spices, while American oak has a coarser grain and imparts more intense flavors of coconut, dill, and sweet spices. In Spain, Finca Albret uses 100% French oak to age their “Viña de mi Madre” Cabernet Sauvignon for 21 months, while Silver Oak Vineyards, in Napa Valley, California, uses 100% American oak barrels, crafted in their own cooperage, to age their Cabernet Sauvignons.  Compare these outstanding wines together to get a feel of the valuable work of coopers!

Author: Maytte Rivera

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