I cannot stress how much oak barrels impact our winemaking. I was lucky enough to manage a cooper evaluation program for 21 years. Each barrel maker has a unique style and impact on the wine being aged in it. The program was the most involved I have experienced in my almost 40 years. Barrels were hand selected from each cooper (individual barrel maker) and the same wine was aged for around 15 months. We then sampled and tasted the wines blind. They all brought something different to the wine. Some brought a silky texture and mouthfeel and others brought flavors of caramel, chocolate, vanilla, coconut, tropical flavors, black and white pepper and combinations of all of those.
During the aging in barrels as well there is a slow maturation of the tannins in the wine from the penetration of oxygen through the staves softening the wine. Some barrels are wonderful as a single entity but generally, the blend of them is the most complex. I have learned so much over those years. Our barrel program at Euclid uses 60 to 70% new barrels for our Cabernets from 4 to 6 different coopers each year. Lucas and I taste each and every barrel during our monthly Quality Control. I look forward to that day each month. We offer (if the timing is right) to taste our barrel trial with our allocation clients.
Too much rain? Quite often people see wet winters as a possible sign of a lesser quality vintage. Some people also consider drought years to be the best years. It always depends on the micro climate in the area the vineyard is in. If the vineyard is in the mountains on a hillside or on the valley floor. Each one requires a different technique to control the vigor of the vine. Controlling vigor on the valley floor can start with the use of cover crops in the rows to compete with the vine for the water in the soil.
During a wet season, the cover crop can be left in the rows for a longer period and just mowed. For a moderate season, you can mow one row and till the other. In a year with less rainfall where the vine might struggle you can till all the rows limiting the stress on the vine. Drought years can have their issues as well. Controlling vine vigor and vine stress is an important thing.