A Lesson in Oak with Winemaker Joel Aiken


My name is Joel Aiken and welcome to did you know? So why do we use Oak for barrels? Wine has been aged in oak barrels for over two centuries and white Oak has always been used because it is a very rare wood in the Oak world and the wood world. As far as it’s watertight, it doesn’t leak. You can bend it into the shape of a barrel where many other woods would break. And it has a great flavor. Many other words will be very bitter and unpleasant to taste. In addition, the natural habitat for white Oak is covered the large part of the earth. The Eastern half of the US is widely covered in forests that have white Oak, much of Europe. The Balkans in Russia have lots and lots of wide Oaks. It’s a great renewable resource for the wine industry. So what is the difference between French and American Oak, but both French and American Oak.

The trees are white Oak, but they are slightly different species and American Oak Quercus Alba has a little bit more spiciness and it has a little bit more aromatic character than French Oak, which tends to be more subtle and a little bit softer. Um, American Oak actually is a denser wood and it’s more watertight than French Oak. So whereas a French Oak barrel might be twice the cost of American. It’s not because of the cost of the log itself. It’s just because we get more States from one log of American Oak than French Oak. Okay. So here’s a cross-section of an Oak tree cut for making staves white Oak is used both in America and France. And so when you see the cross-section, this rough area on the outside is the bark. And then this lighter area is what we call the sapwood. And that cannot be used for barrels. It’s not, it will, it would actually brought, so the Heartwood is the only part that can be used and you’ve got the growth rings going around here. And then these lines coming out or what’s called radio rays, and they really keep the Oak watertight American Oak is much more forgiving as far as cutting it with these radial rays. So each of these pieces I have here, it can be cut as a, as a stave for American Oak. So this is called quarter-sawn where you get this quarter, bolt cut each stave off, and all of those are good. Whereas with French Oak, the staves have to be straight in line with these radial res. Otherwise, they will leak if you have a stave that’s saved that crosses it, it will not be watertight. So where are you have roughly 12 staves here.

You only get five from French Oak. So about 80% of the wood that’s used when you’re making staves is wasted or not used for staves and 20% can be used for States. So what is the difference between new and used Oak barrels? Well, for new Oak, there’s a lot of flavor in part into the wine. And it’s winemakers. We decide from the Cooper where we want the Oak source from how tight the grain is, how long it’s been aged, and how it’s toasted. And all of these factors sculpt the character of that barrel, which helps us to decide what types of barrels to use for wine. A new Oak barrel can be very powerful and overpower a delicate wine Pinot noir. You will typically not use a hundred percent new French Oak or American Oak, but a big Cabernet might take a hundred percent. So you’d need to, uh, consider how powerful the wine is. And then a used barrel one year old, two years old, three years old gets less and less intense. And then when it gets old enough, it basically becomes just a storage vessel.