California Company Is World’s Leading Supplier of High-Quality Toasted Oak Products for Winemakers
SONOMA (March 6, 2019)— StaVin, the world’s leading supplier of high-quality toasted oak products for wine, is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The local, family-owned company started in 1989 with a unique vision. Brothers Stephen and Alan Sullivan turned that vision into a reality that dramatically transformed the industry. StaVin’s business model is founded on an unwavering dedication to the highest quality toasted oak products, continuous and evolving innovation, science-based theory and a sincere commitment to the environment.
In 1989, Stephen Sullivan was already a wine industry veteran of 17 years when he traveled to Australia to work at a winery using “oak chips.” Chips left over from the barrel building process were being added to wine in an attempt to impart oak flavors more economically. This was the catalyst for Sullivan’s revolutionary innovation. He was determined to make barrel alternatives just the way barrel makers produced their barrels. He selected wood from the premier forests in France. He aged that wood for three years. Using specially designed fire pots he invented with a local welder, Sullivan fire-toasted the staves just like French barrel makers have done for centuries. Fire-toasted staves replicated all the positive traits associated with the finest oak barrels from France.
“I had seen the cost of French oak barrels rise about 6% every year,” Sullivan explained. “There was no way for wineries to keep up with those inflationary barrel prices and still make wine that consumers could afford. We had developed a product that made your wine smell and taste like it had been in an expensive oak barrel, at 1/10th the cost.”
Stephen partnered with his brother Alan Sullivan, and the two of them set out to convince the wine industry that they had discovered a better way to make wine. It took a while, but soon wineries in North America, South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand were clamoring for their StaVin products. Today, StaVin serves more than 3,000 customers worldwide
Having perfected fire-toasted staves, Stephen and Alan hired Jeff McCord, a PhD chemist, as Director of Research to study the effects of oxygen on wine in barrels. This resulted in the creation of their second product, the OxBox which helps winemakers replicate the uptake of micro-oxygenation in tanks in a way that mimics the oxygen uptake in barrels.
Shortly thereafter, the Sullivans recruited PhD chemist, Jeff Murrell, to work with wineries advising them on how to finesse their use of StaVin products to achieve their desired aroma and flavor profiles. They currently produce products made from French, Hungarian and American oak presented via three toasting preparations. Like barrels, StaVin’s hand-toasted products are offered at three different toast levels: Medium, Medium Plus and Heavy. The company also produces a Savour Oak line of convection toasted products. Convection toasting produces flavor profiles that are unattainable by fire.
Alan Sullivan said, “Our innovative and ecologically responsible products help wineries reduce production costs drastically while maintaining the subtle nuanced flavors of their favorite barrel programs. Our mission is to help wineries enhance the pure traditional flavors in their wine while saving them money, oak, water, labor, electricity and warehouse space.”
By the mid-1990s, wineries were buying fewer barrels, but were still able to release wines with subtle, complex oak flavors at price points under $20 per bottle using StaVin products, something that would be impossible using French oak barrels, which currently cost an average of $1,000 each.
The StaVin products were so successful that wineries started to wonder if they needed barrels at all. “We decided to practice what we were preaching,” said Stephen Sullivan. “We opened Safe Harbor in 2007, where we help wineries age wine in stainless steel tanks using adjunct products exclusively, along with our OxBox micro-oxygenation technology—in effect, we built a winery that used no barrels.”
Safe Harbor was an immediate success. It has grown in storage capability every year. Currently it holds over 9 million gallons of storage space, and that space turns two to three times per year. Virtually every client started as a StaVin customer, and every one of them remains a client now, 13 years later.
In 2009 Jerome Francois, CEO of TFF Group which includes his family’s venerable Francois Freres Cooperage, became fascinated by oak adjuncts and looked to add an adjunct company to his line of products. Said Francois, “StaVin stood out. They were like coopers. They selected center of France wood and aged it three years. They fire-toasted their staves much like we do when we make barrels. They were family owned, dedicated to quality and had a great reputation in the industry.”
Francois, whose TFF Group operates eight different cooperages, negotiated a deal to partner with the Sullivan brothers. “Jerome liked the product and loved the way we ran the business. He shares our commitment to quality, and the partnering with TFF has opened up the entire European market to our products.”
Industry insiders say that less than 5% of all the wine produced ever sees the inside of an oak barrel, that only the more expensive wines can afford to use barrels. There is no doubt oak flavors and aromas make a wine better. One mature oak tree cut down for barrel production yields 10 barrels worth of oak staves. That same tree used to make StaVin oak adjunct products produces enough finished, sawn staves to yield the equivalent of 500 barrels of oak extraction. The result? StaVin products are 50 times more ecologically efficient that oak barrels.
Thirty years ago, two brothers started StaVin, a company making high-quality oak adjunct alternatives to oak barrels, allowing winemakers to improve their wines at a fraction of the cost. If you are drinking a wine that sells for under $30 per bottle, most likely that wine has been made using oak adjuncts instead of barrels, and if the wine is good, chances are that those oak products came from StaVin.
StaVin is the world’s leading supplier of high-quality toasted oak products for wine. Their innovative and ecologically responsible products help wineries reduce production costs drastically while maintaining the subtle, layered flavors of their favorite barrel programs. As Stephen Sullivan says, “Between StaVin and Safe Harbor we offer stylized winemaking and state-of-the-art wine making facilities. After 30 years, the thing I am most proud of is our customer loyalty. Nothing matters more than those relationships, most of which are now friendships. We are lucky to be in a business that is always evolving. Nothing is more energizing than looking to the future and coming up with new ways to make it better.”