Stone Hill Winery’s oak barrel inventory consists of 450 60-gallon(225 liter) barrels for aging the Norton, Chambourcin, Chardonel and Port wines. Around another 470 60-gallon barrels are occupied with our Cream Sherry and sherry material that will be baked.
Barrel aging allows the wine to extract oak flavors and tannins while allowing a minute amount of oxygen to enter the wine through the barrel staves. During the period of barrel aging, many complex chemical reactions are occurring in the wine. Typically, the simpler fruit aroma of the wine will be transformed into a much more intriguing aroma, tannins will soften, and flavors develop great complexity. We look at the function of barrels as being similar to that of spices from a spice rack. The barrel helps in making the wine more 3-dimensional and interesting.
Stone Hill Winery uses American white oak (Quercus alba) and European oak (Quercus robur) barrels. The two different species of oak have slightly different flavor and aroma profiles. In addition, the techniques employed by the various coopers while building the barrel can have a profound effect on the taste the barrel will impart in the wine. We typically buy barrels from 3-4 different coopers. One of these is World Cooperage from right here in Missouri.
With researching and trials, we have come up with a barrel toast to suit the style of wines that we make. We have focused on various barrels to use in building particular flavor nuances and complexities. For Norton, the barrels are only used for three years for aging. One third of the barrels are new each year. After three years, the bulk of the oak flavor and odor has been extracted. The barrel will then be transferred to our Port or Sherry program where we want the slow oxidative aging the barrel offers, but not the strong oak flavors of a newer barrel.