Lock, Stock and Barrel

Wine / Tuesday, May 7th, 2024

Do you know what we haven’t spoken about in a while?


Herbs growing in a wine barrelOther than making a great place to grow your herbs when they’re cut in half, what are barrels for? And why are they important in the winemaking process?

While we’re all off busy packing your May Jockey Club packs, why don’t you sit back, relax and enjoy this post I haven’t revisited since 2018!


Why oak?

Most red wines and some white wines are stored in wooden barrels made from oak. Why oak in particular? Well, there are a few reasons why it has become the wood of choice:

  • the cellular structure and density of it prevents leakage
  • it bends easily without cracking
  • the physical dimensions of an oak barrel do not change considerably at different levels of humidity
  • oak contains tannins that protect it against insects
  • oak contains flavour compounds, which are complimentary to wines.

Although more than 600 species of oak can be found globally, only a handful are suitable for making wine barrels. The location of the trees is also important and they are usually sourced from areas in which they grow the tallest and straightest.


How are barrels made?

The making of a wine barrel is a tricky process, so I’ll leave it to a real-life cooper tell you how it’s done…



What type of oak has Rob been using recently?

When it comes to Somerled wines, Rob prefers a specific brand of French oak barrels called Chassin – sourced from a small family-owned cooperage in Burgundy. They are his particular favourite for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He really likes the soft, fairly gentle spiciness of the new barrels. It doesn’t tend to dominate the flavour of the wine. That is, as long as he uses them in conjunction with older, more mature barrels.

What do we mean by that? Well, obviously a barrel can be used more than once. And the older it gets the less intense the oak flavours. So, for Rob, it’s important not to have the oak overpower the delicate fruit flavours of his wine. Therefore, he always stores his wine in a mixture of old and new barrels. Once the wine is fully matured and ready for bottling, some of the barrels will have a more intense oak flavour than others. When it’s all mixed together before bottling, this will even out to exactly the balance Rob is looking for.


How long can a barrel be used for before it needs to be turned into a pot for my herbs?

Barrels do have a certain life expectancy when it comes to their use in changing the colour, flavour, tannin profile and texture of wine. However, barrels are also useful simply as maturation vessels, due to the slow update of oxygen through the oak into the wine. After about 8-10 years though they are no longer adding to the flavour profile of the wine.


Do barrels come in different sizes?

They sure do! The most commons sizes used today are a 300 litre barrel (also known as a Hogshead) and a 225 litre barrel (also known as a Barrique). Rob prefers to use hogsheads as it is generally easier to control the amount of oak and the rate of development. The smaller the barrel, the larger the number of barrels needed to store the wine and the greater the surface area to wine ratio… therefore the oakier (technical term!) the wine.

Back in the 70’s, Rob remembers using more of the 500 litre barrels (or puncheons) than anything else. The maturation was much slower in this size, but they were also very difficult to handle. These days, special racks designed to carried by forklift are specifically designed to hold hogsheads and barriques.


Still looking for somewhere to take Mum this weekend?

We still have a few tickets left for our Mothers Day 2023 Chardonnay launch on Sunday 12th May


$48 all-inclusive

in the Somerled Club Lounge!

Expect an elegant mingling event with plenty of aged Manchego, pate, local crusty bread and a pre-release, secret showing of this new and spectacular Chardonnay.

Email me to RSVP.

(It just happens to be our matriarch Heather’s favourite of Rob’s wines so her attendance at this party is confirmed)

Please come and join us – there will of course be specials around this brilliant new white, as well as a Museum Chardonnay open to taste, and it will be lovely to catch up before Winter starts in earnest.

As a Club Member you are of course more than welcome to book tickets for friends who you feel may be interested in our family and wines.

We look forward to welcoming you then!

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