For centuries, barrels have been used to store and transport wine. Barrel making — cooperage — is a process that has changed little over time. A skilled craftsman must create the bulging cylinder shape of the barrel. Wine barrels generally have a life span of five years, and during that time, the oak wood of the barrel will flavor the wine.
When they are empty, most wine barrels weigh between 125 and 140 pounds. When wine is added to the barrels, their weight can make the barrels difficult to transport. Because of their curved shape, wine barrels can be easily rolled as a means of transportation. Transportation of wine barrels was a particular challenge when the barrels were first created, so the curved shape was a design created to help easily move wine.
Assembly of the Barrel
Wine barrels are made from the best oak that the coopers — barrel makers — can find. Generally, barrels are made from white oak, because the white oak bends and allows for the easy creation of the curved barrel shape. After they are treated with heat and humidity, the wood fibers become more flexible and can be bent to achieve the proper shape. Metal hoops circle the wood and hold it in place.
The cylinder shape of the wine barrel allows it to be easily rolled from place to place. The curve of the barrel, known as the bilge, allows for steering of the barrel as it is rolled. By maneuvering the curve –applying more pressure on one side or the other — a person can easily turn the barrel in the necessary direction.
Wine barrels may be turned onto their sides and stacked for storage in racks. As the wine is stored, the flavor of the oak will enhance the wine. The goal of storage in the wine barrel is for the oak to have a flavor enriching impact on the wine.
References and ResourcesCrafty Owl: Cooperage--The Making Of A Wine Barrel
Quality Wine Barrels: Care And Maintenance of Oak Wine Barrels