In these times we are all becoming more aware of our impact on the environment and the scarcity of natural resources, and going green is the only way to go. Only 20% of the weight of the barrel is used to improve wine quality while the other 80% is used for structural integrity, so maybe it is time for the “plastic” barrel to make a comeback.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 movie “A Clockwork Orange”, got its name from the fact that nothing can be as artificial as a clockwork orange, and similarly more than ten years ago there was a very eco friendly barrel on the market, that I called the plastic barrel. At the time there was nothing I could consider more artificial.
Only the inside of the staves were made from oak, while the outer part was made from cheap wood, and the barrel was covered in oak veneer. The barrel was toasted with infra red light and every second stave had a heating element, so that the barrel could be heated to speed up aging, or to stimulate malolactic fermentation. The barrel could be hooked up to the transformer that supplied the electricity to the elements, and a thermometer would be fitted through the bung to monitor and regulate the temperature inside of the barrel.
Wine only enters the first 5mm or so of a barrel and the rest of the oak is wasted, so conserving this natural resource could be highly beneficial. Besides that only 4% of the wood of an oak tree is good enough to be used for making barrels, so you will be saving a lot of trees, while wood that is more plentiful can be used for the structural integrity of the barrel.
At the time I was part of a huge contingent that thought such a barrel is the biggest load of fakery around, but if it lived on we could have had a lot more manufacturers, who could have improved on the concept.
When using staves, a much larger percentage of the oak tree can be used for making staves and the staves have a smaller carbon footprint when transported, because you are not transporting so much French or American air. All the oak is used and none is wasted to keep a barrel from collapsing.
Maybe it is time to revisit the plastic barrel, and look at ways where this “artificial” product can, like screwcaps, low carbon footprint plastic bottles, and staves be used to protect natural resources and hopefully save the planet.