Tag Archives: wine barrels

American Oak Like French?

For those who pay attention to the nuances of wine barrels, it can be almost daunting as to the who, what, where and hows, let alone which kind of barrel to use. Winemakers are always trying to get that advantage over the other to make the next great wine. The type of oak barrel can be that differentiation that vintners are looking for.

Wine barrel staves

Wine barrel staves

I talked to a winemaker a couple months back and he said his mind spins when considering the array of different oak barrels that are available. There is of course wood from the forests of France, but also barrels are produce from oaks of Eastern Europe. Then there is American oak, which can be generated from the Midwest, Appalachia and the Pacific Northwest. Missouri is probably the leading state for production of white oak.

To make things more complex, cooperages, in conjuncture with winemakers are combining the dissimilar white oaks from different states to produce yet even more differentiation. Now you can see why the aforementioned winemaker’s brain is spinning like a top.

Vintners generally think the difference between European and American oak is the tighter grain that oak such as French have over American, allowing the French oak to offer a more subtle degree to wine while American barrels impaired a more oak-based spicy and vanilla texture to wine. That may not be exactly correct.


Now, an interesting article just came out (source: Coeur d’ Alene Press), suggesting that winemakers may be able to produce French-like results using American oak. Without going into the nuances of making wine barrels, certain cooperages are leaving the staves out to dry over at least a couple years time. This outdoor drying after toasting gives off less of an oak taste to wine – in affect doing the same thing to wine as the tighter French oak does.  For more specifics, go to the sourced story linked at the beginning of this paragraph.

Stacks of staves drying in a kiln

Usually staves for a wine barrel are dried in a kiln.

If indeed coopers can make an American wine barrel process wine the same way French barrels do, may this change the purchase habits of wineries?  French barrels are more expensive than American so this could have been a huge issue if it weren’t for the fact that this new procedure is more time consuming and therefore loses the cost effectiveness of buying American oak barrels.

As we learn along the way, it becomes apparent that making wine is an ever-evolving process with every part of crafting a wine refined, changed and just plain blown up as ingenious winemakers continue to alter the methods of winemaking.


Daryle W. Hier

PS: Check out our May Special – Get the world’s best with an incredible value if ever there was one.





Bernie The Barrel – Part 1


As evidenced by our adage at Paso Wine Barrels of ‘all barrels, all the time’ along with maybe too many ideas in our heads, this fictional yarn is about French barrels that make their way to the Americas. This may eventually be a book, but we wanted to offer our fans and readers a first look – chapter-by-chapter.

Bernard, or Bernie as he becomes, has a long journey ahead of him with ordeals underlying the predicament with wine barrels – they are attractive to start and help make great wines, but then after their use, most anything can and does happen to these once beautiful crafted oak barrels. We chronicle the life of this majestic and beautiful French oak wine barrel along with the trials and tribulations over many years. Also, this tale will take into account his other wine barrel friends and a near death experience with a dramatic rescue that could save his life.

Ron Hier wrote the main story with Daryle Hier helping and adding to the tale. Daryle and Jo Hier are the editors. Follow along and hopefully you’ll have fun and learn a little something about the world of wine barrels … from the barrel’s perspective. 

In The Beginning

South of Paris, among the principal stands of oaks in the middle of France and the French forests, are some of the best white oak trees in all of Europe, if not the world. To the west near the Atlantic Ocean on the Garonne River is Bordeaux, one of the larger cities in France but more importantly one of the great wine regions of the world.Bordeaux_France

It is here that Bernard the wine barrel was born in a cooperage (barrel manufacturing plant). At that same time, three other barrels: Henri, Francois and Mael were also born. Bernard’s first words to his friends was “Bonjour mes amis, je suis Bernard le tonneau de vin” or “Hello my friends, I am Bernard the wine barrel.”

After he was made, upon examination Cooper (the fellow that was in charge of building Bernard) declared him another handsome French made oak wine barrel, with all of his parts in good shape. His staves were beautiful, his head, chime and croze (very end of the staves), all in good order, with his steel hoops fine and his stave joints perfect.

Shortly after final inspection, Cooper built a fire inside of him (don’t worry it’s okay, this happens with most new barrels and it doesn’t hurt), it’s called “toasting” and according to Cooper it made Bernard a better barrel capable of producing beautiful wine. Said Bernard after the extraordinary process, “Look at me, here I am a brand new barrel and I’m already toasted.”

He was indeed a new and beautiful barrel but as it was for all other wine barrels, they don’t stay in the cooperage very long and Cooper was getting ready to send them away soon. Bernard said the four friends should call themselves the Four Musketeers – “One for all, all for one” he encouraged, along with “En avant”, meaning onward.

These French oak barrels were very fine and tighter than other white oaks, giving the qualities that ensure flavors to a wine that are more subtle, yet silkier than other countries and regions. The Musketeers were all synonymous in their quality, great-looks and noble pride as French oak barrels and that wherever they were going, they would try to stay together and always keep themselves presentable and make France proud – but this would be easier said than done.

Excited about the idea of being part of another great Bordeaux wine,Barrels_onracks France would not be these particular barrel’s final destination. Bernard was stacked in a warehouse on end with a bunch of other barrels and after looking around, much to his surprise, his friends, Henri, Francois and Mael were not there. He knew then that the Four Musketeers were separated and had not even had a chance to become close friends.  What now?

Great wines are made in oak barrels and great wine is likely in the four Musketeers future. Still, Bernard and friends would discover soon enough that they were in for quite a world-wind ride, creating fine wines as some of the best oak barrels on Earth. But what awaits in a new world?


Ron and Daryle W. Hier





Recrafting An Old Wine Barrel – Beginning To End

PasoWineBarrels.com takes used 58 to 60 gallon barrels that are too old to use anymore in the wine business and brings them back to life as looking better than new. You can go here for more information how to make a decorative barrel.

We received a lot of curiosity in our recent chronicled report and appreciate the interest.  We were brought a project barrel that indeed was a project.  The barrel was rotten on one end and on the verge of being nothing more than kindling.  We were able to clean it up and and it now is resonating on a Paso Robles hill in front of some medal award winning wines.

The story we did was five part and to make it a bit easier to read through the entire account, we have all five blog stories here for your perusal with snippets of each.  We start with the first paragraph and for more on each story, just click on the end of each snippet.  Thanks again and we hope you learn a little more about our wine barrel renovations.


What’s Old Is New Again

Recrafting An Old Wine Barrel – Bad Bottom PART 1

Not all old wine barrels are created the same.  Certainly that can be the case when barrels are left to rot.  Such was the case with this wine barrel that the owner wanted renewed as one of our recrafted and renovated Decorative Wine Barrels. … (click to continue)

Recrafting An Old Wine Barrel – Stripping Stain  PART 2

When we started this project (go here), one end (or head as it’s called) of the wine barrel was rotten in places due to sitting in mud on and off through the years.  It wasn’t repairable beyond placing another piece of wood over it while sanding and grinding most of chime off – the chime is the end of a stave beyond the head. … (click to continue)

Recrafting An Old Wine Barrel – Stain And Prep PART 3

Taking a dilapidated old wine barrel and making it look better than new is a challenge when it has an end of it that is rotten – as we stated when we started this project.  Plus the wine barrel had previously been stained and painted which made the work all that more tedious. … (click to continue)

Recrafting An Old Wine Barrel – Painting … And More Painting? PART 4

Our special project barrel has been a lot of work including the simple sounding prepping – but most everything has gone rather smoothly … until now. … (click to continue)

Recrafting An Old Wine Barrel – Finished PART 5

As you may recall, the product that we started with was almost unrepairable.  One end of the old wine barrel had been sitting in dirt for a time and that included mud at some junctures, which in-turn started rotting the wood on the end of the staves.  The owner was willing to go along with whatever was needed so we went to work. … (click to continue)

Have questions?  Feel free to ask anything.  Thanks again.

Daryle Hier





Recrafting An Old Wine Barrel – Bad Bottom

Sneak peak on a special order – Part 1

Old rotten barrel end

Looks bad? It is and some of the ends of the staves are all but gone.

Not all old wine barrels are created the same.  Certainly that can be the case when barrels are left to rot.  Such was the case with this wine barrel that the owner wanted renewed as one of our recrafted and renovated Decorative Wine Barrels.

Still, not all old wine barrels are recraftable – did I just make up a word?  This barrel was in the dirt for many years.  A cap or head on one end of this barrel is rotten (from sitting in mud when it was wet) with almost nothing left of the ends of the staves to keep the head in the barrel.  This barrel will have to have a top and bottom with this being the bottom. We will put an extra piece of wood to cover the cap. This is a special order we’re doing because the owner wanted this barrel.

We will sand, seal, stain the one cap on this barrel with extra sealer so that it might last many more years sitting in the owner backyard.  Also, this particular barrel will be coated with a special tint that we call leather, which gives off a much deeper and darker look to the barrel.


You can see much of the beveled edge, which is called the chime, is essentially gone.

Click on the pictures to get a blowup of what we’re talking about.  Stay with us as we show you additional progress on this special assignment.

Salootie Patootie!

Ron and Daryle Hier





Wine Barrel Bands: What Color Looks Best?

4 Hoop band options

Hoop band options

As the story goes, we did these decorative wine barrels with the thought that it would match up with our trim around the house, so they became green – Hunter green to be specific.  However, as time went on, we felt the burgundy look might be best as it matched up with the barrels color.  Then when we saw black on some whiskey barrels, it added a distinctive look that set off the barrel.

With that said, and along with the idea that we could just buff out the stainless steel bands and go with a more natural look, what do you feel looks the best?  Possibly another color might be your favorite?  Note: we’ve looked into chroming the bands, but the cost is quite high and for now, we won’t offer that as an option.  Although feel free to vote that in as an alternative.

You can vote once a week and let your friends in on the poll as well.  Thanks.

Salootie Patootie,

Daryle W. Hier





If you happen to be associated in any way with the wine industry, you probably have come in contact with the word ‘terroir’.  Generally, I knew the word and its basic understanding … or so I thought.

The large rolling hills on the Croatian peninsula of Istria in the Northern Adriatic Sea, offer a unique terroir for wine making.

In normal terms, the word as I knew it stood for a type of geography and lay of the land, so to speak.  I looked the word up and although I was right in the simplest sense, the word means much more than I realized.  Merriam Webster calls it a ‘taste of the earth’.  Simply stated, that’s about right.  However, what does it really mean?

Well, you’re not going to get very many folks agreeing on the exact meaning but we’ll give it a try and maybe in the end, you’ll be a little wiser when you describe to your friends what it means.  By the way, its origin is French and it’s pronounced ‘tear wahr’ as in going on a ‘tear’ and armies going to ‘war’.

Any in case, the word has gone through a transformation of sorts.  Before the last decade or so, the word was given to mean more about wines or any beverage (or food for that matter) that had an earthy tone or taste to it.  This could be good or bad depending on exactly what was being described. Recently though, it now pertains more to a descriptive nature regarding a region, terrain, weather or soil conditions and types.


For instance, a terroir’s region or terrain might be rocky, or high in elevation as compared with another terroir which may be in a valley with much fauna.  A terroir’s weather could be hot and dry or cool and damp.  If a ground composition is a sandy terroir, that would be in comparison to a clay-like terroir.

Think of a terroir as the filter for what a vine works through.  A terroir’s soil along with the temperature and terrain can affect a wine grape and make it taste decidedly different than a same grape in an entirely different environment … or more accurately, a terroir.

Note that I’m no expert – just someone who has thoroughly researched wine barrels and with that exercise combined with being in the middle of wine country has brought many of these descriptions dealing with terroir, to the forefront.


A mile up elevation-wise in the far northern reaches of Argentina, lies the Calchaquí Valley with a particular climate that helps to produce great wines from its distinctive terroir.

So you see it’s a combination of factors that give each terroir its uniqueness or character.

The precise and distinctive locality of a region including the topography and weather of a place differentiating from other places, producing a certain quality and personality, if you will – is in a word: terroir.

Hopefully that didn’t confuse you, but in fact, now gives you a leg up on family, friends and cohorts.

We often use the term here in Paso Robles, because certainly we have a distinctive terroir what with a vibrant soil and inimitable terrain combined with a huge diurnal (the difference between high and low temps in a day – we’ll have to have a quick dissertation soon on that term too).

All these differing attributes collective with changing environs and climate make for distinguishing features in terroirs all across the world.  And now you know the rest of the story … or most of it anyway.

Check out these books on terroirs of France and America:

Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines

American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields

Daryle W. Hier


Why do some wine barrels have a red stripe?

This might be open to interpretation but here we go.

At Paso Wine Barrels, we take in almost any type of full sized used wine barrels to reuse and make into a decorative piece for display or use.  However, we noticed that there were barrelsRed striped wine barrels that had a definite stripe between the two bilge hoops or bands (see our wine barrel page) that go around the center.

We’ve also noticed that some barrels have heavily stained areas around the center, which aren’t easy to get rid of and end up being a part of the original imperfections that each barrels have when we give them new life.

Still, the painted ones appeared harder to sand out so we’ve stayed away from them – they’re on our list of future to-do’s.  However, back to the question which was: Why do the barrels have a red stripe around them?

Two reasons

Although there might be other explanations, there are two most common and simple sets of answers.  First off, in wineries, to keep the wine sorted between red and white, companies paint the red wine barrels with the red stripe to merely designate red from white wines.  The second belief is the barrels are painted red because of aesthetics – and maybe some pride – because the wine is tested by the winemaker occasionally while aging to keep tabs on when the wine is ready.  It’s not necessarily a sloppy job but accidents are common.

The casks all come from the cooperage as white oak barrels so the accompanying accoutre mon and painting is usually done at the wineries.  The red ‘paint’ is usually a mix of red food dye and/or wine like a Petit Verdot, which is frequently used for blending or adding color to other varietals, especially here in California.  Some wineries will add to the paint the actual vintage for that particular wine either from the prior year’s crush, and also note wood stain is also used.  Still others use beet, pomegranate or other assorted juices that stain easily.

Occasionally the question is asked, is it healthy that wine is spilled?  Couldn’t that create microbial problems?  The simple answer is no.  We may talk about this at another time.

So, whether the answer is vanity or uniformity, these rationales are the best explanations for why some wine barrels have a red stripe down the middle.

Distinti saluti,



Why Wine Barrels?

That’s what we said.

First, you have to understand that our interest in wine barrels came by accident. Not because we were forced into it or didn’t like them or even what their normal function was – like making beautiful wine – it’s just that I guess when you come from the big city (Los Angeles), things like creating decorative wine barrels isn’t at the top of the list.

However, as most in this striking area probably understand, it’s a company town of sorts. That’s not necessarily said in a derogatory way; but, the little city of Paso Robles is now mostly a mirror of the region, which has been consumed by the wine industry. So nearly everyone you know here has some connection to wine and/or vines.

Old barrels

A very good friend and neighbor has a boutique vineyard in his backyard called Venture Vineyards, representing little more than a quarter acre of multi gold-winning zinfandel grapes. We helped him with all levels of making wine and in the process, interactions with others in the industry brought us to the point of wanting barrels, primarily to make planters. We’d fix them up by sanding, staining and painting the bands.

Then we decided one day, while looking at a barrel that we hadn’t cut into yet for planters, what they would look like all spiffed up and placed in the house. We sanded and stained one, plus this time we added some varnish (urethane) to give it a more glossy look like furniture has and … well, WOW, we said. However, it was when others saw the barrels and it became the topic of conversations that we started making them for friends and now, they are available to the public.

We probably pour too much labor into them to make the wine barrels just right but that’s our nature. Still, there you have the short story as to how we ended up renovating wine barrels into unique and beautiful pieces of furniture.

Also, we’ve listened again to request and now offer wine barrel planters that actually you can utilize for many assorted uses.  We also added a cool wine barrel for your garden hose.

Keep coming back and checking our blog as we inform you on an assortment of subjects, all pertaining in some way to the world of wine barrels and Paso Robles … or even about us, the Hier family.

Salootie Patootie