My barrels form an important part of my operations. They not only provide storage but they bring flavours to the Meads and Wines that are hard to get from elsewhere.
But perhaps most importantly, there is just something special about being around them. They have been unchanged for millenia, they bring a connection to history and to the winemakers who have gone before.
Summed up in the Wisdom of 14 year old Oliver, "They just have a special romance about them."
This is particularly true when using barrels that in themselves have a significant story to tell.
Not all barrels are the same and matching a barrel to a mead or wine is part of the art. I have an ever growing range of barrels and am always looking out for anything special. Some have come directly from wineries or distilleries, some have visited coopers for re-coopering and a couple of them are new oak.
My re-coopered barrels are often scraped and re-charred and then put back together with new oak heads. Either in original 200 litre size or resized to 100-120 litres. This gives a nice balance of historical flavours blended with a fresh char and some new oak.
Sometimes they are simply re-coopered without touching the char, sometimes they have the heads replaced with new oak.
Barrels coming directly from wineries have a very special connection. I get to talk to the winemaker who has used the barrel before hand: it becomes connected to a place and a person, and a drive to a winery, as well as a product. It becomes a story as well as a barrel.
Each barrel has its own character, each its own story.
Adding to the story of a barrel is an important aspect of maximising their usage. What occupies a barrel will ideally enhance it for the following tenant.
Once I have put a Thyme mead through a barrel it becomes well suited for ageing big bold herbal meads in, but not suited for a soft and clean mead in any way at all and it would just run a Maple wine in no time.
A batch of Maple Wine through a freshly re-charred barrel softens it nicely for a range of future uses.
Barrels are not my only ageing vessels, sometimes oak is just not called for. They are by far my favourite though, they take on a partnership role, rather than just being assets.
Once I put a wine or a mead into a barrel I find patience with no problem at all. Not only does the barrel take over the role of guardian of the product, it also takes on its task of adding flavour and character.
Just like giving the yeast the time they need to do their job properly is important, so too is allowing the barrel the time it needs.
And while I wait, there is more fermenting to be done and more barrels to be sourced and filled.
Barrelling on is important.