Today is Earth Day, the perfect time to share a “green” idea that has been embraced by the wine industry: giving barrels a second life.
New wine barrels will impart an oaky favor for 3 to 5 years. After that length of time, they become neutral which means the barrel does not provide much in the way of oak flavors.
Usually, once barrels become neutral, they are sold to dealers or artists to use for the creation of barrel crafts. But barrels can be re-conditioned to be used again in the industry for wine aging, storage and other uses. Most small to mid-sized wineries, along with home winemakers are interested in these environmentally (and budget) friendly options. Here are just a few companies that do this.
ReCoop Barrels, a company based in Sebastopol California, began in 1989 by offering to extend the life of wine barrels. The company has a patented process and equipment, which has been used to recondition over a quarter of a million barrels. Reconditioned barrels range in size from 60, 30, 20, 15 and 10 gallons in French oak, and 60 gallon barrels are also available in American or Eastern European oak. ReCoop also offers silicone bungs for sale.
Another re-cooperage firm is The Barrel Broker, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The firm, which opened in 2009, works to resource white oak barrels, which have held wine, whiskey and bourbon. These barrels are reconditioned and offered for sale to wineries and distilleries. The company has over 300 French, American and Hungarian 60 and 70 gallon barrels in stock, and over 250 spirit barrels are also available.
But those barrels that are past the reconditioning phase are still useable in other ways. Customers of The Barrel Broker can also purchase barrel bungs, inserts, lids, metal bands, staves and barrel racks. Other barrels past their prime are sold for use as rain barrels and planters.
Nelson Cooperage in New Zealand not only crafts new barrels, the company also repairs and reconditions older barrels, casks, vats and buckets. Port and spirits barrels are offered as display barrels; barrels that you can place your homemade wine or spirits in for personal use. Barrel alternatives are also offered and include wine barrel furniture, shelves, trays, bar furniture and barrels for historical displays.
And another company located “down under” is S.A. Cooperage in Hackham, Australia. They also make new barrels, but S.A. Cooperage takes used barrels, knocks them apart and re-machines them in order to extend the life of the cask. The company offers to re-manufacture barrels, which means that a barrel is downsized into a smaller capacity, which can then be re-seasoned and re-fired, although re-firing does not reproduce the original toast levels.
These are just a few of the green alternatives for reconditioning and reusing wine barrels. These options provide the chance to prolong the life of well cared for barrels while saving oak forests and allowing boutique wineries and local wine makers a better chance to make quality wines: A real green win-win option.
Happy Earth Day!