The oak barrel is the benchmark tool for premium winemaking with its slow addition of oxygen and gentle extraction of oak components that enhance a wine’s flavor, complexity, and mouthfeel. But for all its benefits, the uncontrolled inputs of oxygen and oak components can be a problem for certain wines that require a more customized approach.
“We think the tools should adapt themselves to the needs of the wine,” says Laurent Fargeton, Vivelys France Oak & Winery Solutions Manager. “To achieve the full benefits of barrel ageing, we need to adjust the parameters involved in ageing, to fine-tune them and find out what the perfect ageing method is for every kind of wine.”
Some wines might not be strong enough to stand the oxidative aging, but would still benefit from the oak compounds, and Fargeton says “sometimes the wine needs more oxygen than the barrel is providing, that’s why alternative aging could provide a solution to better control this process”
Although the barrel is a very useful tool for certain wine styles, other styles may need a greater level of control that cannot necessarily be achieved with a barrel. Thus, Vivelys set out to understand each part of the process interactions between oak and wine as well as wine and oxygen. “We wanted build knowledge, understand every part separately, and then bring them together,” explains Fargeton.
A barrel’s first purpose is to be a vessel that contains wine, and research shows that wine only penetrates 2-4 mm of the barrel bringing approximately 25 grams of oak compounds per liter into contact with the wine, and only half of the oak compounds are extracted in the first year of use. Whereas wine will fully penetrate even a thick winemaking stave and allow for a more efficient absorption of oak compounds.
The phenolic and aromatic compounds affecting wine profiles make up 5-10% of untoasted oak, and analysis of barrel flavor profiles revealed huge differences depending on toasting levels. Furthermore the compounds contained in the oak can vary widely not just between oak species and forest locations, but even more between individual trees, making consistency and predictability across barrels very difficult.
During the winemaking process the wine that comes into contact with oak also affects the intensity of flavor profile imparted. Using oak during alcoholic fermentation generally decreased the sensory intensity of the oak flavors, except smokey/toasted oak profiles. “If you have the time, I recommend adding oak after alcoholic fermentation to not waste the potential of the oak,” says Fargeton.
Recent research also shows that the level of oxygen wine is exposed to in the barrel isn’t uniform across time, and up to 25% of the oxygen exposure of a one year ageing happens in the first month. This Oxygen Initial Release (OIR) is from oxygen contained in the oak, but after two months the permeability or Oxygen Transfer Rate (OTR) of the barrel determines the amount of oxygen the wine is exposed to.
Micro oxygenation (MOX) experiments revealed that oxygen levels can have a big impact on the wine, both on its own, but also as a factor in oak and lees character absorption. “The point is to define how much oxygen a wine can consume without negative effects,” says Fargeton. “There are some wine profiles where oxygen is more important than oak.”
While micro oxygenation during oak integration generally decreases the intensity of oak characteristics in the wine, it also enhances the mouthfeel perception. And the exact dosage of oxygen greatly impacts how the lees influence the mouthfeel of the wine.
Vivelys developed the range of Boisé oak chips and new Inspiration staves with specific and reliable oak characteristics that winemakers can use to get consistent and predictable results in combination with their Visio micro-oxygenation tool, bringing together the benefits of barrel ageing at a lower cost and higher level of control with the option to customize to process the specific needs of the wine and the winemaker’s goals.
To help winemakers use these tools effectively, Vivelys created a matrix of six wine needs to serve as a guide, but also built all their accumulated knowledge into the Visio Assistant, so that winemakers can use the research-based micro oxygenations programs to meet their winemaking goals. “Visio Assistant builds on the matrix with a program that uses initial features and target objective to determine MOX levels,” explains Fargeton. “With Visio Assistant you can get results without the extensive learning period to master micro oxygenation”
Vivelys has a strong U.S. based consultant team that provides technical field support to help winemakers leverage the full potential and achieve optimal oak wine integration for their target wine profiles. Boisé staves and oak chips are distributed by G3 Enterprises in the United States. For more information or samples, please contact G3 Enterprises, at [email protected].