Oregon Oak in Winemaking
After fermentation, most red wines spend time aging in barrel. The amount of time can vary widely from a few months to several years. The most common kind of oak barrels you find in the wine world are French oak barrels, made from one of the forests of France. These barrels are made from Quercus robur or Quercus petraea. Another option of oak in which to age wine are American oak barrels. Aging in American oak barrels is a classic move for Tempranillo in Rioja, Spain. American oak barrels can also be found around the world, for example Penfolds Grange from Australia uses them, as well as Silver Oak from California. When blind tasting, we are taught that aromas of coconut and dill are an indication that the wine has spent time in American oak barrels. Generally, French oak barrels impart aromas of vanilla, baking spices, cocoa, or butter
Although I had seen Oregon oak barrels at Belle Pente last year, I didn't realize how much of a part they played in the Chardonnay. For the last ten years, Belle Pente has aged it's Chardonnay in 50% French oak barrels and 50% Oregon Oak barrels. Belle Pente's Chardonnay is elegant and nutty, but does not tend anywhere near coconut and dill. That is because Oregon oak is a different species, Quercus garryana, that grows from the Puget Sound through Oregon to Northern California. Quercus garryana has a tighter grain and is slower growing than Quercus Alba, the species to which we are referring when we say American oak. The vanilla and coconut notes come from the wood being sawn rather than split. Belle Pente gets their Oregon oak barrels from Oregon Barrel Works, which is located in McMinnville. OBW hand-splits Oregon oak and lets it season for three years.
Barrel making is interesting part of the process that creates the wine that ends up in your glass. I will continue to investigate. Hopefully, I can find out more about the characteristics of Oregon oak and what other producers are using it to age their wines.