Wooden Barrels: Technology for the Ages


The oak barrel is, perhaps, the first association that comes to mind while thinking about wine. Few people know that the tradition of aging wine, and almost every other alcoholic drink, such as cognac, whiskey, or sherry, has happened by accident.

In Julius Caesar’s times, Romans were fighting the world to create the Empire; they had to transport weapons, food, and wine. You might wonder why they didn’t transport water. Transporting wine was way more efficient than water because it never spoiled if kept in the cold. At that time, amphorae, a bottle adopted by Romans owing to Greeks, was the best solution for holding liquids. Soon, Romans concluded that amphorae weren’t efficient enough and started looking for better solutions.

Only when Romans started moving to Europe in 300 B.C. and stopped at Gallia (currently France), the significant amounts of oak caught their attention. It’s believed that Gauls taught Romans how to produce wooden casks. This theory makes sense because French Oak barrels are the most popular and pricey among other barrels even today.

Oak gained popularity pretty fast. The great number of trees in Europe was equal to the significant number of casks made. Wood in this kind of tree was soft and easy to shape in a cylinder. Why did they shape it as a cylinder? Round barrels were easy to push without using too much force.

Another step in creating a cask is “toasting” it from the inside for pasteurization, preventing bacteria from spoiling and poisoning the wine. Unfortunately, amphorae didn’t have such advantages, which is why it was abandoned as a transporting tool. Practical Romans couldn’t ignore this cheap and time-saving solution.

Year after year, when experiments with wine casks continued, Romans figured out that wine that was kept in the cellar for three years tasted much better than wine kept in the cellar for a couple of months. No matter how fast merchants wanted to sell the wine, coopers were on the consumer’s side: that’s why drinking wine is such an enjoyable process nowadays. After that, winemaking hasn’t changed much; the process is much the same:

  1. picking the grapes;
  2. getting the juice out of grapes;
  3. adding yeast for fermentation; and
  4. aging.

The influence of barrels was noticeable up until the refrigerator was created. Not only alcohol, but many foods, such as sauerkraut, fish, water, and other vegetables, were kept in the casks. Some people say that aging wine in the wooden cask is old-fashioned, and scientists have since come up with better solutions.

Although winemakers sometimes use plastic and steel for storing the wine, these cheaper alternatives won’t replicate the taste produced by a wooden cask. A great example is French wine, made using the “old-fashioned” technologies, which is considered the greatest wine worldwide!

BochArt is a Canadian company specializing in handmade oak barrels, built using the best oak barrel-making techniques. All barrels are individually hand-made by expert artisans.


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