Wine Barrels have a specific purpose when created, most obviously to hold and allow wine to age. Aging in oak barrels enriches the flavor and contributes to the character of the wine. It can impart a smoother, softer, richer feeling on the palate. The science behind the barrel is actually quite fascinating, as subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in each barrel can affect the end product of our vino.
Wine will take on a different personality and quality depending on the type of wood/oak used, as well as the process by which the barrels are constructed, and also whether or not the oak is new or has already experienced use. A well-made vino so-to-speak will have just enough oak to give it added complexity without suppressing other flavor elements, whereas too much oak will overpower the more delicate scents and flavors, actually making the wine less complex.
Each time a wine barrel is reused, the wine will extract less oak flavor, until the barrel is practically void of its oaky contribution. The life span of a wine barrel averages around 3-5 years for these primary purposes, and then the barrels may be sent on to make liquors such as brandy, sold to various artisans or dealers, or often even sold off as firewood.
In my opinion, a new type of fun begins when the wine aging process ends! Wine barrels can take on a new and exciting life after their initial purpose has been fulfilled. There are gorgeous wine racks, wine cabinets, and all kinds of furniture out there today crafted from recycled wine barrels. You could build shelves for your wine books, or how about hardwood floors-how cool! And what personality wine barrel parts would lend if incorporated into wine cellars, tasting rooms, kitchens, or perhaps unique artwork. Use them as large pots and fill with vines or flowers, or how about using the old barrels to collect or store rain water?
There are so many imaginative and inventive uses at present and the scope could be endless with all of the creative minds out there. One of my favorite recent news pieces was on how the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park is using old wine barrels to successfully breed hornbills – quite a home and romantic breeding venue if you ask me (or better yet, the hornbill!)
Today, in California alone, a shocking 200,000 handcrafted oak wine barrels made from 200-to-300-year-old trees are being discarded by wineries each year…Let’s challenge ourselves, and these wineries, to continue to come up with environmentally friendly, fun and creative ideas for reuse for these barrels…as in the examples above, they still gotta lotta love to give!