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New Life For Old Wine Barrels

 

There once was a time when old wine barrels were sought after by landscape gardeners for outdoor plant holders and other decorative purposes.

 

However, today there’s bad news for gardeners but good news for the wine industry with the introduction to New Zealand of new technology aimed at rejuvenating old wine barrels and adding extra years to their useful winemaking lives.

 

When you consider the cost of a new imported French oak barrique is around 800 euros per unit, extending the effective life of a previously past-its-used-by-date barrel makes good sense.

 

Not only good sense financially by minimising costs in the winery but also by reducing the need to harvest French oak trees and therefore reducing a local winery’s carbon footprint.

 

There are an estimated 10,000 new wine barrels imported to New Zealand each year – and an unknown quantity of used barrels that have already reached the end of their useful wine making lives that could be refurbished and re-used.

 

Innovative wine technology service provider Vintech Pacific has introduced to the New Zealand wine industry ground-breaking, patented, Australian barrel refurbishing technology under the brand Phoenix - Diverse Barrrel Solutions.

 

At a cost of around $550 per barrel, the life of a barrel is significantly extended by at least three more years using a process that has been welcomed in Australia, about to introduced in California and just launched in New Zealand.

 

Over the last 12 months, 26 selected New Zealand wineries provided Vintech Pacific with used barrels to try out the new process as part of a trial programme – resulting in very positive tasting notes from all who took part.

 

As a result, Vintech Pacific has taken the next step by investing in the equipment and the technology from the Australian patent holder and has set up a specialist Phoenix wine barrel rejuvenation workshop in Blenheim.

 

The Phoenix process in centred on computer scanning of each barrel followed by laser-guided cutting to precision remove the contaminated wood inside the barrel.

 

To ensure the contaminated oak is totally removed, each stave is scanned separately to build an accurate three -dimensional picture of the inside surface.

 

Following this digital map, a computer-controlled shaving tool attached to a robotic arm cuts up to 8mm off the inside of the barrel to reveal clean oak.

Analysis has shown that Phoenix’s precision cutting removes all wine contaminants to expose clean wood while retaining most of the original French oak flavour characteristics.

 

So effective is the process that barrels previously containing red wine can be used for the fermentation and maturation of white wines.

 

After each barrel is checked and any rough-spots hand-planed smooth, infrared toasting, to the wine makers’ specification, is applied using another new technology process which removes the risk of variation and blistering and allows the winemakers a choice of toasting styles.

 

Each barrel is then accurately measured and recrozed before new, imported, pre-toasted oak heads are custom-shaped by another computerised process for a precise fit.

The heads are custom-branded to meet individual wineries custom heading requirements such as toast level, oak type, and the year and month Phoenixed. New heads are sourced from 24-month seasoned oak from Centre of France.

The process, while using state-of-the-art technology, also sees the return to the wine industry of traditional coopering skills.

 

The heads are fitted top and bottom, new hoops added and tightened as needed while a cooper checks the finished product for overall integrity.

Barrels are returned to the client winery containing 10 lites of sulphur-citric solution and are pressure tested before leaving the Vintech Pacific’s Phoenix workshop.

Exterior sanding and refurbishment, including Cellarguard anti-mould treatment, are optional extensions of the Phoenix process. General cooperage can be performed to repair or replace broken staves prior to the rejuvenation process.

 

All barrels will be thoroughly inspected to see if they are in a suitable condition for the rejuvenation process before any work starts.

 

The consoling news for landscape gardeners is previously shaved barrels, barrels over 10 years old and barrels rejected for structural reasons, will be returned to the winery and available to find new life as garden planters.

 

This service, until recently only available in Australia, is now in full swing at Vintech Pacific’s Marlborough base at Blenheim where an adjacent, purpose-built workshop has been established.

 

The service will be also be established in Hawkes Bay at Hastings during 2012, and a location in Auckland is planned.

 

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