Nothing lasts forever, so where do old wine barrels go once a winemaker decides to refresh the cellar? Master of Wine Sally Easton explains...

Malcolm Elliott, by email, asks:

What do producers do with old barrels once they’ve come to the end of their useful life?

Sally Easton MW, author of Vines and Vinification, replies for Decanter:

What’s ‘useful’ differs by producer. New barrels do two key things: impart flavour and oxygenate. Flavour is used up after about three years, so for a producer who wants 100% new oak every year, the ‘old’ barrels will still have a couple of years’ flavour in them.

Buying these could be good value for another producer. Domaine de l’Ostal-Cazes in Minervois, for example, uses barrels from Bordeaux classed growth Château Lynch-Bages (also owned by the Cazes family).

If the oxygenation effect of barrels is the key parameter, age becomes less important – ‘useful’ might then be measured in tens of years.

Oak also absorbs some of the liquid it contains, so second-uses can also include crossover benefits in other drinks, for example whiskies finished (spending their last months of maturation) in barrels that have previously been used to store Port, Sherry or Madeira, so that the whisky absorbs nuances of the fortified wine that previously filled the barrel.

More recently we’ve seen a USA wine aged for a couple of months in old Bourbon barrels.

For a final imaginative re-use, or up-cycling in current jargon, small pieces of furniture can be made, such as chairs and side tables. Long gone are the pub garden flower pots.

This question first appeared in the October 2018 issue of Decanter magazine. See more Decanter magazine articles available online.


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