Coopers, White Oak and Winemakers Make For Some Awesome Wines

A few years ago I read where the wine buyer for a major big box company said, “Wine is just a beverage”. The comment was in response to the fact that the buyer being interviewed did not have wine buying experience. In fact, previously she was an electronics buyer for the company. Even wine drinkers at some point in their wine experiences are intrigued about the complexity of making good wine at any price point; it’s the mystery of wine. I have been guilty on occasion of saying; I almost would rather smell the aromas than drink the wine. Even something seemingly as simple as a cork, tends to constantly undergo new findings about its character. As an aside, cork is from a species of the oak tree. Whether a person is infatuated with wine or not, a casual experience with the product will leave most people amazed about how profoundly complex it is to make good wine; and that too means it is not just a beverage.

We all notice the bottle, cork, label and then finally the wine; we rarely think much about what it is that made our favorite wine our favorite. Maybe, just maybe we ought to think about the oak tree. The oak tree, specifically the white oak; French and American, gives wine its mouth feel, aromas, color and flavor. Barrels replaced animal skins for wine about 1,500 years ago. Oak, as a preferred barrel source, is only 1,400 years old. Steve Mayes notes that closed wood containers came into being about 900-800 BC and in the first century BC wine was stored in wood barrels (not necessarily oak and white oak in particular).

Most believe white oak for wine storage and aging was a happenstance discovery. As wine making processes were being discovered then refined and studied, it was probably at some point winemakers realized that a certain oak imbued characteristics in wine (red wine in particular) that were appreciated, respected and mystical. Paraphrasing a corporate tagline-The world got better wine through chemistry!

Nonetheless, White oak as a winemaking tool is complex and involves science, research, engineering and agriculture. A high quality oak barrel can make up $6.60 of the cost of the bottle of fine wine to the winery. (Fren