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Drum It Up! Steel Drum Industry News, Trends, and Issues

Oak Barrels vs Alternatives

July 14th, 2015 by Dean Ricker

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Stainless Steel, Wine

On June 23rd, the French American Chamber of Commerce hosted a seminar at the Napa Valley Country Club entitled Barrels vs. Alternatives, about the advantages of the time-tested, traditional barrel compared to the new uses of oak barrel alternatives such as stainless steel. A panel discussion held by oak suppliers was followed by a winemaker panel. The debate wound through various topics but always seemed to come back to the question: Can alternatives replace barrels? At the top end of the wine market there is need for wine to be aged in French oak barrels. At this end, the opinion is that it has to be a high-quality French oak barrel. At the other end, where wines are made quickly to be priced low and consumed young, barrel alternatives are an ideal way to add oak flavors. What’s not clear is how oak will be used in producing wines for the middle of the market and it’s going to be an interesting evolution. The right alternatives could make a wine of very high quality when paired with a fine wine and given time to age. If you don’t give it the same potential, you obviously will have different results. A barrel is an excellent vessel for aging and improving wine, it but can require significant resources. At a certain point wineries need to examine alternatives to reduce their barrel loads. Barrel alternatives also allow a winery to be flexible, or reactive, to trends in the retail and bulk market either by fine-tuning a wine to fit a brand or getting a wine ready for bottling sooner. One winemaker stated the he first started using barrel alternatives to deal with grapes that exhibited strong vegetal flavors such as spinach and broccoli. He said the various powders and chips were like “magic bullets” for dealing with the issue. Today, the barrel alternatives market has grown so diverse, and there’s so many ways to tinker with a wine during fermentation. Stainless steel wine barrels of course round out the use of alternative to oak, offering not only a blank slate for “un-oaked” wines, but also acting as a vessel for use with oak alternatives. Check out the barrel alternatives from Skolnik.

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