To understand the method of ageing wine in barrels, it is important to comprehend the work and science that goes into the selection and preparation of wine barrels before they are filled with wine. This includes the crucial behind the scenes work that goes on in the cellar to make this all possible.
On completion of fermentation we are able to determine the potential of the wine and what role each individual selected block of vineyard will play and contribute to the final blends. This makes the selection of the perfect barrel, to marry with each wine, so critical. It can range from the use of a new barrel (first fill), a second fill barrel (once used before) to a third fill barrel (twice used before). Before submitting wine to the barrel, the barrels undergo a specific cleaning and preparation process.
The preparation of new barrels, i.e. first fill, consists of filling each barrel with water for at least 24 hours, while lying horizontal. Then the barrel is placed upright and water is poured on both ends to ensure swelling of the heads for period of 2 hours on each head. This is done to ensure no leakage of wine out of the barrel, once it is filled with wine. Following the completion of the swelling process, the barrels are rinsed out with high pressure barrel washers to clean out any small loose pieces of wood fragments. The new barrel is now ready to be filled with wine.
Barrels that have previously been exposed to wine are either called second or third fill barrels. These barrels have to be cleaned inside by making use of the high pressure barrel washer. A specific washing cycle on this machine is programmed to first use hot water, followed by a gentle rinsing of cold water. Barrels are then placed on racks to drip-dry for a period of 24 hours. To ensure these barrels are kept in pristine condition until they are filled with wine again, a small Sulphur pit is burned inside each barrel that will destroy all unwanted organisms or bacteria. This barrel is now ready to be filled again.
Every vintage we have approximately 43 small batches of wine, consisting of the individual five noble Bordeaux varieties. For each wine to reach its full potential, it has to be married with the correct oak component, which in turns enhances the flavour and aroma of the wine. These essences can range from spicy aromas to more sweetness such caramel and vanilla. Any smokiness in wine can also be attributed to the contribution of the oak. Over time, the wood also deepens the flavours of the wine and ensures a smoother texture.
When selecting the oak for a specific batch of wine, there are a few elements in the wine to consider. These factors are tannin structure, fruit expression and the wine’s finesse and boldness. After each filling of a barrel the contribution of the oak flavours becomes less and less. The reason for using second or third fill barrels, are to ensure gentler wines are not overpowered by the oak extraction from the barrel. The use of first fill barrels on the other side, are to infuse more prominent flavours of the new oak into the more powerful wine.
All five Bordeaux varieties are aged in separate barrels over a period of 12 months. Following the completion of maturation, all the characteristics of each wine barrel, i.e. the make and fill are used to enhance and empower each of our renowned blends, to craft the perfect wine for that specific vintage. This is where the winemaker’s true expertise is essential, in order to match the wine to the right cooper, i.e. the make of the barrel, and to select the correct toasting level and barrel fill for that particular batch of wine. By combining the use of first, second and third fill barrels the result is to have a wine filled with flavour, yet elegance to drink and enjoy.