An illustrated guide to the barrel production process, by Jamie Goode
Oak barrels are vital for wine production. They have been used for centuries for storing and transporting wine, and to this day are used for the fermentation and ageing of the majority of serious red wines - and a good number of white wines too. (For an introduction to the role of oak in winemaking, see this article.) This is an illustrated guide to their production, based on a visit to a cooperage at the Fanagoria winery in Russia.
This is the Fanagoria cooperage in Russia, showing 500 litre oak barrels in various stages of construction.
The starting point in barrel construction are long pieces of oak called staves. These are seasoned outdoors for two or three years before being carefully shaped.
These staves are ready to use. The exact shape is vital, because when they are brought together and curved into shape, the barrel must be watertight, without any glueing or mechanical fixing of the staves.
A barrel under construction. Heat is used to help bend the staves, in conjunction with pressure from metal hoops.
The barrel head being cut into shape.
Once the barrel is constructed it is toasted over a flame. The level of toast matters in terms of the flavour impact on the wine that will be stored in it.
Here's a freshly toasted barrel: you can see the way that the staves have become slightly charred
After toasting, the hoops are removed from the middle of the barrel and the outside is sanded.
Here the hoops are being reapplied and knocked into position.
The finished article.