Choosing Stainless Steel Wine Barrels Instead of Oak Barrels
Since the beginning of time, wood has been an important component of wine production. If properly maintained, oak barrels can be used for years, however it takes several uses to eradicate the wood’s effect on the wine’s flavor. In addition, oak barrels are extremely difficult to wash and preserve. Oak barrels are indeed more romantic, but at the cost of sustainability and cost per barrel, the method is becoming more and more inefficient for producers.
Steel barrels provide a solution for many of the issues found in oak barrels. From a cost perspective, stainless steel wine barrels are cheaper, because they do not have to be replaced every few years and can last the lifetime of the wine – and beyond. And with special wood inserts, the stainless steel drums can provide the same flavor components of the oak barrels without requiring the maintenance.
The real efficiency of stainless steel barrels comes from their ability to maintain a more precise taste in the wine. Steel does not affect the composition of the wine, enabling winemakers to produce a more uniform final product. Oak barrels add different levels of aroma depending on the compounds of each barrel, an effect easily replicated and regulated with wood planks added to stainless steel barrels. (Some wineries even add a bit of oak dust to their stainless steel barrels that not only adds flavor, but gives the wine a smooth finish.)
Stainless steel barrels also provide winemakers with a controlled environment for the critical aeration process. The aeration process dictates the level of fermentation, which is significantly easier to control when using stainless steel barrels as opposed to oak ones. Oak, and wood in general, is a porous material that allows air to move freely in and out of the barrel. For crisper wines like Chardonnay, the more fruity flavor achieved using steel wine barrels creates a cleaner taste that is generally preferred over an oak spice that is unavoidable when using oak barrels. Though using oak barrels is a tradition, stainless steel wine barrels are a modern technology that creates a more efficient, consistent, and less expensive way to produce your ideal product.