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Oak Research Continues to Yield New Precision Oenology Tools

The phenolic and aromatic compounds affecting wine profiles make up only 5-10% of untoasted oak, and those compounds can vary widely not just between oak species and forest locations, but even more between individual trees. With such a high individual variance, “it is practically impossible to create two barrels that impact a wine’s profile in the same way,” explained Laurent Fargeton, Vivelys France Oak & Winery Product Manager to a crowd of winemakers attending Vivelys’ Branch Out – Explore Oak seminar in Santa Rosa, CA.

For more than 20 years Vivelys has specialized in producing oak barrel alternatives that deliver consistent results within specifically targeted flavor profiles. To achieve that goal, they undertook a major research project to analyze and identify the oak compounds that impact wine profiles. The newly released Boisé Inspiration staves build on that same research and process.

Fargeton guided the audience through the findings of the groundbreaking research that led to the creation of the Boisé precision oenology products, and then through a tasting of wines aged with the two new Boisé Inspiration staves.

Two kinds of European Oak are used for barrels: Pedunculated and Sessile, and French oak forests are mostly dominated by one or the other of these main species. The barrels made from specific forests will therefore mainly consist of one or the other. The most prestigious forests, whether Tronçais, Jupilles or Darney, are all located in areas where Sessile Oak is dominant.

The organoleptic analysis of the two oak types revealed why barrels from these forests are so highly rated. It showed that Sessile Oak generally contains more of the aromatic compounds like Whisky-lactone that integrate complex and interesting flavors into wine, while Pedunculated Oak is richer in tannins.

However, the study also revealed that the variability of compounds between individual trees is even greater than the average species variance with some trees exhibiting super aromatics and others very little.

To overcome this challenge of reliable oak quality selection, Vivelys created a system of sampling, analyzing, and sorting the raw oak based on 10 different aromatic compounds, and then applying an optimum time and temperature calibrated heating process to further decrease variability.

As a result, they have been able to offer a wide range of Boisé oak chips that impart specific characteristics to the wine, and now also two different staves.

The tasting included three pours each of Chardonnay and a Cabernet Franc Merlot blend, one aged with the Boisé Inspiration Range #07.1, another with the #07.5, and a control.

The winemakers in attendance could then experience directly how the #07.1 stave matched its targeted wine profile by enhancing the vanilla notes, aromatic intensity and persistence, as well as roundness and sweetness in the mouth for both the red and the white compared to the control.

Meanwhile the Boisé Inspiration #07.5 stave imparted a different flavor profile enhancing the toasted and smoked notes while also increasing the aromatic freshness, intensity, and persistence for both wines.

The choice between the flavor profiles of the two staves is a question of which style the winemaker is targeting and what a given vintage needs to reach that goal. However, the takeaway is that the systematic approach developed by Vivelys makes it possible to predict how each oak product will interact and impact the wine profile.

Fargeton advised those new to using staves that “While wine barrels are made to be watertight, oak cut for staves break the structure of the wood, which allows for increased penetrability and compound release.” Wine in barrels will only penetrate to about 2mm, but given enough time even thick staves will achieve full penetration, so a simple surface area comparison will not be accurate.

The release speed of the different aromatic compounds is not the same, so maintaining time of contact is critically important. A minimum of four months is recommended for vanilla flavors, while smoke compounds are easily extracted in two to three months.

To help winemakers leverage the full potential of these oak profiles and achieve optimal oak wine integration for their target wine profiles, Vivelys has a strong U.S. based consultant team that provides technical field support.

In addition to Boisé Inspiration staves, Boisé also provides a full range of oak chips, each with a unique set of organic characteristics; both are distributed by G3 Enterprises in the United States. For more information, contact G3 Enterprises, call 1800.321.8747, or email G3.Info@G3enterprises.com.

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