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Wine Vessels Then and Now

Wine Vessels Then and Now

In early wine history, the amphora was the vessel of choice for transportation and the storage of wine. Due to the perishable nature of wood material, researchers found it difficult to trace the usage of barrels in history.

To go back – waaaaay back, the Greek historian Herodotus noted that ancient Mesopotamians used barrels made of palm wood to transport wine.  Since palm was such a difficult material to bend and fashion into barrels, wine merchants experimented with different wood styles to find a better wood source.

ENTER OAK. The use of oak has been prevalent in wine-making for at least two millennia, first coming into widespread use during the time of the Roman Empire.

In time, winemakers discovered that beyond just storage convenience, wine kept in oak barrels took on properties that improved it by making it softer and, in some cases, better-tasting.  Robert Mondavi is credited with expanding the knowledge of winemakers in the US about the different types of oak and barrel styles through his experiments in the 1960s and '70s. We thank Mr. Mondavi for his innovation, as we use it today to craft our wines.



 *Here are some barrel facts:

  • A barrel maker is called a cooper
  • Barrels are shaped that way for a reason (barrels can easily be rolled like a wheel, but also stand upright to remain stationary)
  • Oak barrels do neat things to wine - aging it in an oak barrel does two things: It allows for a very slow introduction of oxygen into the contents of the barrel, and conveys some of the character of the oak wood into the wine itself. 
  • Oak barrels do neat things to whiskey too! Same as above, but whiskey style. Same goes for bourbon, rum, sherry, etc. Read more in The Joy of Home Distilling.
  • Oak barrels are charred and/or toasted on the inside. Charring is done to maximize the effect that the wood has on the contents of the barrel. Both the temperature at which the charring is done and the length of time spent charring change the flavor profile of the barrel. 
  • Some of the content of the barrel will evaporate, this is known as the “angel’s share.” Generally the loss is about 2-5% per year, but that is accelerated in the smaller barrels that are commonly used in home aging and distilling.
  • Oak barrels can be reused for 100 years
  • Barrels can be upcycled   (*source:
Here at the winery, you can see some of our upcycled used wood barrels in the tasting room and our active oak barrels rooming with out steel tanks in our wine-making facility. Haven’t seen them, or want to learn more about winemaking? Ask us for a free tour!

Brad Evans of Alpine Wine Design stops by the winery every so often to pick up some used barrels to be used to design some pretty incredible furniture.  You can see some of his accessories in action at the winery and on our tasting counter.



Of course, our vessel of choice is our famous wine growler - and they are refillable too!  Yes, we brought back the good-wine-in-a-jug idea from "the old days" in early 2012, offering a one-liter bottle, filled from one of the rotating taps (both red and white available). Prices start at $21, and include the glass bottle that can be refilled anytime during tap room hours!

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