Daily Archives: November 6, 2013

Wine Barrel History

Since our business is the beautification of old, used wine barrels, I thought it would be interesting to know some history on just how, when and where the old wooden wine casks started.

Amphora was used for wine before wooden cask came along.

Early accounts show there is not an exact time the wooden barrel began to be used but history indicates that it goes back to the era of the Roman Empire.  Before that time, the common container for storage, fermentation and aging was the Amphora.  The Amphora dates back to the Lithos’ (new stone-age) era and were ceramic vases of various sizes, with handles on a narrow neck which stood about two to four feet from the floor usually next to a table.  Larger Amphoras could hold about 100 pounds of liquid, usually wine.  Sealed with pine resin, they were commonly painted with beautiful colors, sometimes by famous artists and painters. The vessels were generally owned by the elite.

History reads that Herodotus used palm-wood casks to ship Armenian wine to Babylon in Mesopotamia but the barrel as we know it today was most likely developed by the Celts. Their technique of bending planks through heating, in the process of making hulls for boats, evolved into a method of building wooden barrels.  It seems the shape of the barrel, a cylinder, fat in the center and drawn in on the ends with flat top and bottom aided in moving heavy items due to leverage.


18th Century cooperage

Wooden barrels for wine making are made of either French common oak, White oak or American white oak.  Generally there are two sizes:  “Bordeaux type “at 59 US gallons (225 liters) and “Cognac type” at 79 US gallons (300 liters).  The maker of wooden barrels is called a cooper and the plant is called a cooperage.

The history of the wooden barrel seems to be based on transportation; however, the primary importance of the cask today is fermentation, aging and storage.  Vanilla and wood tannins from the oak conjure up flavor for the wine.  Aging time in the barrel is very important; the maturity for different wines can be as much as several years depending on the winemaker and varietal of grape.

When the aging process is complete, grapes are processed and wine is bottled, leaving empty barrels which hopefully are at there end.  Paso Wine Barrels will then rescue Winebarrel-adjfireplant-info_bthem and craftily process each entire cask into a beautiful piece of furniture to be enjoyed for years to come.  We hope you have enjoyed this piece of barrel history.  Save the barrels and …

…Salootie Patootie

Ron Hier