So what’s the deal with wine barrels? You’ve probably seen them used as planters, tables in tasting rooms, and stacked impressively high in photographs of winery cellars. From a winemaking standpoint, little has changed about the wine barrel in the last 2,000 years, and there’s little reason to think much will change in the future.
The vast majority of wine barrels used today are made from oak, either French oak or American oak. Other woods have been experimented with, but oak is the clear favorite.
“If you made a barrel out of pine, your wine would taste like pine needles because of the tar,” said Assistant Winemaker Ben Paplow. “Pine is also a softer wood that would risk losing its shape over the years a barrel would need to stand intact. A harder wood could be used, but trees like cherry and apple tend to contribute their own flavor characteristics to the wine that oak manages not to overdo. Oak is classy that way.”
Oak is tough enough to withstand years of use yet gentle on the wine within. The earliest winemakers didn’t know why their wine came out tasting “softer” after barrel aging. Today we do know why, but to spare you the eye-glazing I underwent when researching the science behind what happens as the wine sits in contact with the wood, let me sum it up as such: chemicals in the wine plus chemicals in the oak equal a better tasting wine.
Of course, there are exceptions. Italian red wines have been known to spend time in cherry barrels to get that cherry flavor, for one. Additionally, white wine is made differently than red wine and has fewer tannins. Only the strongest varietals, chardonnay in particular, benefit from being aged in oak. You’ll find the more delicate white wines are aged in stainless steel tanks instead.
The abundance of oak in France can be attributed in part to the forests planted in the 1600s to support the shipbuilding industry. “The trees grow tall and straight, and were highly sought after for masts,” Paplow said. Those forests remain to this day and the best oak for barrels comes from trees that are grown in colder regions (which form tighter rings).
American oak has gained a following over time and the question of French vs. American oak needn’t ruffle any patriotic feathers (did anyone else flash to thoughts of “Freedom oak”?). We’re talking about different species of trees, not just where the trees were grown, and there are winemakers who have found the stronger characteristics of American oak complement their wine well.
Cooperage, or barrel-making, is big business indeed and barrels can range anywhere from $300 to $1,000 each. The time-consuming process that is taking a 100+ year old tree and turning it into a few barrels by hand, one at a time, is a process that remains relatively unchanged since the first barrels were made, and while some winemakers forgo barrels entirely, using oak chips or staves (sticks) added to stainless steel vessels instead, the combination of oak barrels and wine that is meant to be aged is bound to continue.
- Anton Ville Winery, 2009 sauvignon blanc
- Otis Kenyon Wine, 2008 merlot
- Robert Ramsay Cellars, 2008 cabernet sauvignon
- William Church Winery, malbec
Saturday, June 18
- , 14111 NE 145th St, hosts Jethro Tull on its 40th Anniversary Aqualung tour in the Chateau Amphitheater at 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $45; reserve seating is $65. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster or in the Chateau Wine Shop daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- , 12280 NE Woodinville Drive, kicks off its Summer Dinner Series at 7 p.m. with Chef George Stevenson preparing a five-course meal with wine pairings by winemaker Mark Newton. This month’s menu is entitled Northwest Seafood Celebration and costs $85 per person plus tax and gratuity. Register by calling 425-487-1648 or filling out the registration form online.
For Father’s Day
Saturday, June 18
- , 14450 Woodinville-Redmond Road, Suite 109, is having a Father’s Day Weekend with complimentary tastings for dads from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. On the tasting menu you’ll find Airfield’s favorite wines to pair with grilled foods.
- , 14465 Woodinville-Redmond Road, celebrates Father’s Day by inviting families, fathers and Fido out for its Dog Days of Spring on Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Is the dad in your family a dog lover? Here’s your chance to pick up a copy of the Winery Dogs of Walla Walla book at a special Dusted Valley discount with a large portion of the proceeds going to a local no-kill placement center.
Sunday, June 19
- , 14419 Woodinville-Redmond Road NE, hosts its Summer Solstice Celebration on Father’s Day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This event will feature Corrida, Brian Carter’s Spanish-style wine, flamenco guitarist Mario Amaya, tapas from Purple Café and tastes of the newest vintages of three other wines. Tickets are $45, plus tax (includes a 15 percent discount on wine purchases that day) or $20, plus tax, for the under-21 and other non-wine drinking party-goers. Space is limited; see website for purchasing details.
- , 14366 Woodinville-Redmond Road, invites you to join owner/winemaker/father Steve Snyder as he grills up some meat and shares his current releases from noon to 5 p.m. Fathers taste for free and will receive a 10 percent discount on purchases of two or more bottles of wine.
- , 16116 140th Place NE, is honoring dads with a complimentary tasting from 1 to 6 p.m. Bring in a picture of your kids to show your pourer and enjoy a selection of the current Matthews line up.
- , 14525 148th Ave. NE, Suite 111, is releasing its 2008 merlot and waiving tasting fees for dads on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
- , 15029 Woodinville-Redmond Road, is celebrating Father’s Day with Jack Daniel’s pulled chicken sliders, tasty sides and new wines by Silver Lake, Girly Girl and Glen Fiona from 1 to 4 p.m. The patio will be open, so let’s hope for sunny skies.
- Winemaster (and Brewmaster) Festival of Washington at the Red Hook Brewery grounds, 14300 NE 145th St., takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. on July 27. Tickets cost $49 and are on sale now. In addition to cheering on your favorite winemakers and brewmasters as they compete in the Winemaker Olympics, you’ll enjoy food from favorite gourmet food trucks and live music. This event raises funds for Heartbeat, serving wounded warriors.
Tasting room happenings
- continues to reward Passport to Woodinville holders with a special Midweek Boondoggle: Stop by with your passport, stamped or not, Wednesday or Thursday from noon to 5 p.m. to enjoy winery-only offerings on Dusted Valley.
- has a big jar of corks in the tasting room and wants you to guess how many are in it. Stop in any day of the week to submit your entry; the closest guess wines a three year vertical of the 2006, 2007 and not-yet-released 2008 claret. Must be 21 or older to participate.
- is offering Merlot Vertical Gift Boxes, only 24 available, at a special price of $100; wine club members receive another 15 percent off. Included are the 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages.
- Hollywood Schoolhouse Wineries J. Bookwalter, , Pepper Bridge Winery/Amavi Cellars and are hosting B.Y.O.P (bring your own picnic, pork, party…) every Thursday in June from 4 to 8 p.m. The wineries will provide the grills, and you’re encouraged to bring dinner that can be thrown on the barbie. No cost to attend; each winery will be pouring its latest releases, which you can purchase by the flight, glass or bottle.
- is beginning Summer Sundays; the tasting room will be open every Sunday in June from 1 to 4 p.m. and will feature the 2010 rosé, 2009 semillon and 2008 Sunrise.
- is hosting The Art of the Vine, vineyard art by local photographer Richard Duval through the end of the month.
Saturday, June 18
- , 19501 144th Ave. NE, Suite D300, is celebrating the release of its 2009 sauvignon blanc on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Enjoy complimentary pairings and wine tastings all weekend long.
- , 14450 Woodinville-Redmond Road, continues its Saturday Unplugged Summer Series with local musician Brian Ellefson from 5 to 9 p.m. No reservations required, and seats fill quickly, so come early. Wine and food specials will be available all night.
- and Canon de Sol, 14450 Woodinville-Redmond Road NE Suites 108 and 107, are bringing the live music of May Palmer, the Queen of Ivory Soul, to their shared patio from 5 to 7 p.m. for another installment in their Summer Concert Series. There is no cover charge for this event. Enjoy glass and bottle specials throughout the evening.
- , 19495 144th Ave. NE, Suite 235, is celebrating the release of its 2008 Uplands Vineyards cabernet sauvignon from 3 to 6 p.m. There will be no tasting fee to try this new release, so come by for a sample along with complimentary nibbles.
- , 19495 144th Ave. NE, Suite A100, is hoping for grilling weather to help celebrate the release of its latest malbec that pairs well with anything off the grill. Regardless of the weather, your tasting fee will be waived during this release party from noon to 5 p.m.
Tuesday, June 21
- , 14450 Woodinville-Redmond Road NE Suite 108, is keeping the tasting room open for Late Night Happy Hour from 6 to 8 p.m. Come enjoy glass and bottle specials, light bites and live music by Nikki DeCaires.
Wednesday, June 22
- , 15608 NE Woodinville-Duvall Place, hosts Wine Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. This week’s featured winery is Robert Ramsay Cellars, pouring three wines paired with a sampling of great Italianissimo appetizers for $15.