The balance between tradition and technology is always delicate in the world of wine, and so it is with the introduction of a new type of barrel that some are saying could revolutionize winemaking.
Late last spring, a company called Modern Cooperage unveiled its new barrel system at Dutcher Crossing Winery in Healdsburg, Calif. It’s a stainless steel barrel with an oak-stave interior. The idea behind it is to enable the winemaker to have greater control over the aromas and flavors of his or her finished wines.
“Most types of fine wine made in California wineries spend more time in barrel than not,” says Patrick Pickett, the winemaking consultant for Modern Cooperage. “Oak goes hand in hand in the production of the very best wines. Our barrel systems are designed to be part of a winemaker’s barrel program, as another tool in their quest to make better wines. This tool provides them with a level of control and precision that has never existed before.”
The interior stave rack systems are said to give the winemaker total control and repeatability over their “oak barrel stave recipes.” The lees can be stirred in a circular motion in just seconds, and without moving the barrels. The winemaker has complete control over the level of oxidation they allow their wines to be exposed to while in barrel. (Regular oak barrels have a uniform rate of oxidation that is unchangeable.)
Debra Mathy, the proprietor of Dutcher Crossing Winery, has embraced the concept.
“I think the technology has come a long way since the initial idea,” she said, “and there is a significant place for it in the wine industry.”