The Napa | Sonoma chapter of Women for WineSense has moved its blog to its new website!

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We will no longer be posting anything to this site as of April 2013.

Tweet us @WWSNapaSonomaThe Napa | Sonoma WWS chapter’s Bubbles, Brix and Buzz II event, held this year on Feb. 20th, 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. PDT at Gloria Ferrer, invites not only members of WWS chapters throughout the United States to participate virtually but also extends the invitation to the wine-drinking public around the world. Simply buy a bottle of Gloria Ferrer wine at a local wine shop ahead of the event, pop the cork, and tweet along with the rest of us tasting live in their Sonoma tasting room. What could be easier?

To get the most out of this tweet and bubbles fest, here are a few suggestions:

  • Buy and enjoy the same wines we’ll be enjoying at Gloria Ferrer: Sonoma Brut followed by the 2004 Royal Cuvée and 2007 José S. Ferrer Pinot Noir. We’ll tweet when each one is being poured and discussed.
  • Sparkling wine should be shared! Enjoy your Gloria Ferrer bubbly with your friends. Make a party of it!
  • Use the hashtag #WWS-GloriaFerrer to participate and follow along with the global tweetchat.
  • We’ll put the best tweeted questions to our guest speaker, Eva Bertran, Vice President of Marketing, at the event and tweet out her answers.
  • Love their wines?Gloria Ferrer wines will be offering a special, one night only 20% discount to tweeters on wine purchases made on the night of the event online. Use offer code WWBBB13 at checkout on 2/20 to get your discount!

#WWS-GloriaFerrer

 @WWSNapaSonoma    @GloriaFerrer

Use WWBBB13 to get 20% off online orders at www.GloriaFerrer.com on 2/20 ONLY!

Please contact us at wwscommunications@comcast.net if you have any questions. Enjoy the bubbly and tweetchat.

Our special guest speaker at Bubbles, Brix and Buzz II will be Gloria Ferrer’s Vice President of Marketing (and fellow woman in wine), Eva Bertran. Having left her native Spain in 1986 — where her own family was in the wine business — she is a member of the original team that launched Gloria Ferrer, and continues to oversee the winery as devotedly as if it were her own family business.

Eva Bertran, Vice President of Marketing, Gloria FerrerEva Bertran brings a captivating blend of Spanish style and California charisma to Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards. Complemented by her impressive wine expertise and deep understanding of the Sonoma Carneros region, Bertran is an ideal leader at Gloria Ferrer. Having left her native Spain in 1986 — where her own family was in the wine business — she is a member of the original team that launched Gloria Ferrer, and continues to oversee the winery as devotedly as if it were her own family business.

Bertran holds a master’s degree in international management from Spain’s top business school, Escuela Superior de Administración y Dirección de Empresas University (ESADE). Armed with this education, she has lent her astute intelligence and dynamic energy to every job she undertakes. She is instrumental in fostering the Catalonian traditions through every facet of Gloria Ferrer, infusing the company culture with her own casual elegance, quick wit, and enthusiasm.

A passionate wine educator, Bertran embraces her role as international ambassador for Gloria Ferrer, leading sparkling wine and food pairings for consumers, trade, and media. She is relentless in her understanding of sparkling wine as much more than a celebratory beverage. The cooking skills that Bertran has cultivated throughout a lifetime have led to a dynamic understanding of sparkling wine and its versatility with food. Her presentations at the winery and throughout the world are insightful and profoundly persuasive.

Bertran is equally involved in her local wine community. A past-president of the Sonoma County Vintners, she remains an active member in the association, while also serving as president of the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Board of Directors. She also served for many years on the Board of Carneros Wine Alliance.

Away from work, Bertran complements her love of food and wine with her zeal for skiing, biking, yoga, and swimming. Having studied with the famous Catalan Chef Montserrat Segui, she enjoys preparing traditional Catalan dishes inspired by her grandmother, Teresa, for her husband, David, and their sons, Paul and Jack.

We hope you can join us to hear Eva speak at Bubbles, Brix and Buzz II, on February 20th. Our event begins at 5:30 at Gloria Ferrer. Click on the link for ticket information. Cheers!

What happens when you get a celebrated winemaker, a viticulture scientist and academic, a journalist, a Master Sommelier and a professional wine judge together at one table? Well, even though they’re all females, we don’t expect they’ll chit-chat away about their latest finds on Zappos.com …unless they’re comparing workboots to walk the vineyards.

If you’re expecting a bit of mud-slinging from the female winemaker who didn’t like a review from the female journalist or a medal score from the female wine judge – all while the female scientist points to the wrong clone in the wrong soil, and the female sommelier identifies an off food and wine pairing – this isn’t “Jersey Shore” or “Jerry Springer.” While it might make for a dramatic evening, the Women for WineSense style is far more akin to “Oprah” than to grand opera.

The State of Women in Wine

Considering that women purchase 75 percent of wine in the United States, you’d think there’d be more women winemakers in the business. But according to research conducted by Dr. Lucia Albino Gilbert, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, less than 10% of California wineries have a woman in the position of lead winemaker. Statistics on the number of women executives working in wineries are even harder to come by.

Why are there so few women in the upper echelons of the wine business? Perhaps we’ll gain greater insight to that question from one of these Women in Wine panelists who’s already attained the pinnacle of success in the wine business:

Dawnine Dyer spent 25 years as Winemaker at Domaine Chandon. Her tenure at Chandon was marked by the introduction of many original sparkling wines and wine styles, taking the best of both a rich tradition and a promising appellation. Along with her husband, Bill, she now consults with Sodaro Estate Winery and is a partner in the new venture, Meteor Vineyard. She is active in the Napa Valley Vintners Association — and most importantly, works on Dyer Vineyard. Now both of them can frequently be found working in the vineyard, topping barrels and finally packing orders of Dyer Cab for shipment. Between the two of them they hold degrees in Philosophy, Biology, and Enology — all three come in handy from time to time.

Dr. Carole Meredith finally left her day job in 2003. For 22 years she was a professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis. She survived the long commute between Napa and Davis by means of books on tape and a lot of cappuccino. In addition to teaching courses, she conducted research in grape genetics. Her research group used DNA typing methods to discover the origins of some of the greatest old wine varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, and most recently Zinfandel. She and Steve Lagier now devote their time to their 84-acre Mount Veeder property (only a small portion is planted to vines), tending their 1880’s olive grove, their Lagier Meredith Vineyard and deporting their rattlesnakes. Dr. Meredith is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Chevalière de l’Ordre du Mèrite Agricole. To top it off she was a 2009 Inductee of the Vintners Hall of Fame.

Andrea Robinson is one of only 17 women in the world to hold the title of Master Sommelier and the first woman to be awarded Best Sommelier in America.  She is the author of 4 top-selling wine and food books including Everyday Dining with Wine, which won the prestigious IACP cookbook award.  She is also a 3-time James Beard Award winner, an honors graduate of The French Culinary Institute, and the Sommelier for Delta Air Lines.  In addition, after 3 years of searching, testing and tasting, Andrea has unveiled the Holy Grail of Wine: her ground-breaking wine stemware series called The OneTM: one perfect white wine glass and one perfect red wine glass to optimize all wines. They are beautiful, affordable, break-resistant and dishwasher safe. And since they perform better than even the grape-specific glasses, they solve the problem of needing to add a wing to your house to have the right glasses for your wine. And for Andrea’s picks on what to sip from The OneTM stems, check out her Andrea’s Buying Guide app for the iPhone.

Deborah Parker Wong, AIWS, is Northern California editor for The Tasting Panel magazine where she reports on the global wine and spirits industries with an emphasis on domestic trends. In addition, she contributes frequently to Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, Cheers magazine, Sommelier Journal and writes a lively drinks column for Examiner.com. Deborah holds a marketing degree from San Francisco State University and was awarded the Wine and Spirits Education Trust’s Diploma in 2009. She lectures for SOPEXA USA and is a professional wine competition judge. Her affiliations include the Wine and Spirits Education Trust as an Associate of the Institute of Wine and Spirits (AIWS), the London-based Circle of Wine Writers and the Wine Media Guild of New York.

Moderating the discussion of these Women in Wine will be Tina Caputo, Editor-in-Chief of Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine. Before joining the magazine in 2008, Caputo spent five years as the managing editor at Wines & Vines magazine. She began her career at the Wine Institute, and went on to work in public relations/communications for international wine importer Maisons Marques & Domaines USA. Throughout her career she has written about wine as a freelancer for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, Harpers Wine & Spirit (UK) and Decanter. Since 2007 she has been a monthly columnist for Wine Review Online.

Advantages for Women and Wine

Do these women, who have achieved great success in their wine careers, believe they have an edge over their male counterparts in the wine industry? (You’ll have to attend WWS’ Women in Wine event on Sept. 20 to hear what they have to say.)

We’ve heard the claims that women have a better palate than men. In Lettie Teague’s recent Wall Street Journal article, Men Are From Cab, Women Are From Moscato?, she recollected “the wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr., he told me something that I have never forgotten. ‘My wife, Pat, has a much better palate than I do,’ he said. (Was it really possible that the most influential wine critic of the modern age was a mere runner-up to a woman named Pat?)” She also delved into a few more facts about women and wine in recent research: “Women tend to prefer less carbonation in their wines and are usually more sensitive to bitter flavors than men. They also prefer slightly sweet wines. I’d certainly heard that last one often enough—and seen the sort of wines that marketers created in response.”

Wines such as Mommy Juice and Mommy’s Time Out are two such brands that have seen great commercial success by targeting women consumers. Further, rather than create a whole new second label targeting females, Chateau Ste. Michelle recently kicked off a marketing campaign targeting women, as described in Andrew Adam Newman’s recent article for the New York Times, “Marketing Wine as a Respite From Women’s Many Roles.” Fans are encouraged to participate in a Facebook competition, What’s Your Chateau?, recounting specifically how each associates a “time or place during the day where you’re able to become You again” with Chateau Ste. Michelle.

With all this targeting of female wine consumers having resulted in their collective purchasing power of 75 percent of the U.S. market, you’d think we’d find more women in the wine industry itself! The good news is that women in the industry are making great strides in their careers.  In Wines & Vines’ “More Women at Acclaimed Wineries” by Kate Lavin, she reported in July that “half of the graduates of California’s top enology programs are women.” As any woman with more than a few vintages under her belt will tell you, there weren’t many women in formal wine studies programs a mere two decades ago.

In April, Tom Wark looked at the Status of Women in Wine, and recounted this from WWS’ co-founder and winery owner Michaela Rodeno, “I was lucky and got my first real wine job with a man whose management style was so hands-off, bottom-up, and free-wheeling in the startup of Domaine Chandon that I did get a chance to do just about anything/everything, learning as I went. Such fun! When it was my turn to be the boss (at St. Supery), I was grateful for the open-ended opportunities I’d had and carried on by hiring smart people who didn’t necessarily already know how to do the job I had in mind for them.”

For Rodeno, however, all does not necessarily look perfectly rosy for women in the industry. She went on to forecast, “With the increasing consolidation taking place now at the producer level, I fear that wine industry opportunities, especially for women, are shrinking.  Large corporations tend to (a) have male-dominated leadership, (b) stratified organizations that make advancement challenging and even formulaic, and (d) prefer to hire proven executives.  All of these make it harder for women to rise to the top — though some do.”

Women and Leadership

With these challenging circumstances, is there any good news for women wishing to carve out their own careers free of the encumbrances described by Rodeno? Over at the Careerist, Vivia Chen reported in April that “It’s Official—Women Trump Men on Leadership.” In her article, Chen states that in “a study of over 7,000 leaders in an array of occupations, women outperform men across the board, from forepersons to senior managers. In the category of top management (including executive and senior members), for example, women got a 67.7 percent rating for being effective leaders versus 57.7 percent for men.”

Will that news open more doors for women? Hard to say. Others, like Amelia Ceja, commenting in Tom Wark’s report, see positive signs for women building careers in the wine industry: “As president and marketing director of Ceja Vineyards, I travel throughout the United States, and I’m asked frequently ‘What do you do at Ceja Vineyards?’ No one ever thinks I own Ceja Vineyards because I’m a Latina woman! There’s still so much to be done! There are more women working as viticulturists, winemakers, wine marketing directors, and presidents of wineries than before! Opportunities are opening up in these fields!” She notes, however, that the story is different for female minorities: “There are no barriers to the advancement of women in the wine industry today as long as you’re white! If you’re a Latina vintner, you have to work twice as hard!”

Mapping a Woman’s Road to Success in the Wine Industry

Navigating a route to a successful career in the wine business for women is often far more hazardous than their male counterparts’. From taking a break to raise children (equivalent to a stuck fermentation to your career) to the gender gap (reduced yields per paycheck), women face a number of challenges rarely encountered by men.

In 2010, a woman was still earning only 77 cents to a man’s dollar in the United States, according to the most recent statistics. In California, it was closer to 85 cents to a man’s dollar.

Second, while women have outperformed men in leadership skills, far fewer of them have attained the positions of rank to use them! Why? As Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman report in their Harvard Review Blog post, “Gender Shouldn’t Matter, But Apparently It Still Does,” they concluded that “when it comes time for promotion, some — many — highly qualified women are being overlooked.” The reason? Males still dominate the upper levels of management and don’t promote them. Further, in their original post, “Are Women Better Leaders than Men?” they stated an influencing factor: “chauvinism or discrimination is an enigma that organizations (and the business culture) should work hard to prevent.”

Piling on the challenges to those faced in the workplace, many women seek to have it all, from successful career to happy home life with family. Most of our panelists either are currently or have already juggled child-rearing duties alongside wine career duties.

It was, in fact, our other co-founder’s daughter (then also Frog’s Leap co-founder, Julie Johnson) who asked her mother after school one day: “Mommy, why are you poisoning Daddy?” that spurred both Ms. Johnson and Ms. Rodeno to found Women for WineSense to dispel this rumor being promoted by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) at that time.

Not only did Ms. Johnson have to face an uphill climb as a rare woman in the upper ranks of the wine industry, but she had to explain her choices (and correct mis-perceptions) about wine to her children (as if raising them wasn’t hard enough!)

Can Women Have It All?

Clearly, from the many multi-generational family wineries that now dot the North Bay, many women in the wine industry have successfully juggled the demands of career and family. Recently, however, women at or near the glass ceiling have begun to wonder if they really can have it all.

In Ann-Marie Slaughter’s recent Why Women Still Can’t Have It All for the July/August 2012 issue of Atlantic Magazine, the former first woman director of policy planning at the State Department discusses candidly her angst over pursuing such a high-profile career while her teenage sons clearly needed more attention from her. Juggling family and career was a double-edge knife which, on one side, brought about the derision of colleagues wondering if she lacked commitment to her career when she chose a child’s ballgame over a weekend business conference. On the other side was her concern that she was short-cutting her career when she took time for family.

Vintage Rules!

In the wine industry, the ebb and flow of family and work moves around harvest, for which the timing isn’t always perfect. Nevertheless, unlike most other non-cyclical industries, eventually both harvest and the school year can both dovetail and clash depending upon the weather conditions and children’s ages, making for a routine women in the wine industry can juggle with greater dexterity.

Do the competing demands of a career and home squelch women’s dreams of making it big in the wine business? Are the sacrifices women make to obtain their personal and professional goals too laden with obstacles to have it all? Can she go from cellar rat-ess to Mistress of the Cellar with finesse?

Stay tuned! You’ll have to attend Women for WineSense’s Women in Wine event on Sept. 20 at the Napa Valley Museum to learn how our panelists and moderator answer these questions and many more about their own careers and lives in the wine business!

Guest post by WWS member Susan DeMatei – Susan is the owner of Vinalytic, a consulting firm specializing in Direct Marketing for wineries. She is the winner of a Direct Marketing Association Achievement Award, a Certified Sommelier, a Certified Specialist in Wine and has over 20 year’s experience in Direct Marketing in the luxury digital arena. You can read her blog at vinalytic.com/blog.

An Introduction to Franciacorta Wines

There is no doubt about it, we are a festive nation. In 2011, the Wine Institute reported shipments of sparkling wine and champagne were the highest in the last 25 years, reaching 17.2 million cases, up 13% over 2010. And not just champagne and domestic Sparkling Wine strong sales came from a variety of different producers and regions worldwide. Prosecco and sparkling Moscato were among the winners, and champagnes, other sparkling wines and California methode champenoise wines also experienced gains.


A Quick Primer on Sparkling Wine

Every Country has their Bubbles.  Spain offers Cava, Italy has Prosecco, Germany toasts with Sec, but one of the least known, but most lovely, is Franciacorta.

Paul Wagner, of Balzac Communications & Marketing, recently agreed to speak to Women for WineSense about this little known region.

Also named for the region, Franciacorta is the sparkling wine made from that territory in the Lombardy area of Italy.  It was awarded DOC status in 1967, the designation then also including red and white still wines. Since 1995 the DOCG classification has applied exclusively to the sparkling wines of the area.


History

In 1961, an ambitious young winemaker names Franco Zilian who was working for the established producer of still wines, Guido Berlucchi, produced 3,000 bottles of a sparkling wine under the name Pinot di Franciacorta. Instant interest allowed the following vintage production to be increased to 20,000 bottles, and eventually the annual production to 100,000 bottles.  By the time the region was granted DOC status in 1967 there were 11 producers of sparkling Franciacorta, although Berlucchi represented more than 80% of the production.  As of 2006, sales of Franciacorta were approximately 6.7 million bottles.

Franciacorta became the first DOC to specify that its sparkling wines must be made by the same methods in the champagne region in France.  In 1990, the Consorzio per la tutela del Franciacorta was formed, instigating codes of self-regulation with a gradual reduction of yields and elimination of the use of Pinot grigio in the blend. The advent of DOCG status declared vineyards extend only 2,200 hectars (5,400 acres) and the blend permitted is 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Blanc.   This governing body considered responsible for the efficient elevation of sparkling Franciacorta to DOCG status in 1995. Since August 1, 2003, Franciacorta has been the only Italian wine not obliged to declare its DOCG appellation on the label, in the same manner that a Champagne is permitted to exclude from labels its AOC.

Other than the blend, the production process, aging, styles, sweetness variations and wines are similar to champagne.


So, why aren’t Americans toasting with the same wine they do a Milan Fashion Week?  Paul Wagner has the answer; “They drink it all in Italy!”

Paul explains that the Italians love their dolce vita and premium wine so much that very little gets exported.  In fact, so little is available for trial, Paul’s company, Balzac Communications & Marketing, has been hired to introduce “those in the know” to the unknown wine. Thus, he’s scheduled reviews with Sommeliers, Masters of Wines, Educators and enthusiast groups like Women for WineSense to “educate the educators.”

“Our first phase is designed to introduce those palates that will appreciate the wine of Franciacorta, because only with this educated demand will the Italians be persuaded to give up such a treasure.”

So, what to do if you miss Paul’s presentation and tasting?  Try a high-end restaurant, is his best advice.  He says on-premise is more likely to carry Franciacorta than retail.

And, don’t forget that every day is a chance to celebrate.

Salute!

Women for WineSense will be hosting Be Inspired by Franciacorta Italian Wines at The Valley Wine Shack in Sonoma on August 23rd, 6-8 p.m. Paul Wagner, owner and founder of Balzac Communications & Marketing, will be presenting the Franciacorta bubbly for tasting and speaking to attendees. For more information or reservations, visit our ticket site at: http://wws-franciacorta.eventbrite.com.

Our holiday event, held at Grgich Hills Estate on Thursday, December 8th, was a smash! Thank you, one and all, for attending. Here some pics from this event:









In all the many years Barbara Walters has asked the question, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” you’ve got to wonder why none of the celebrities ever answered, “Why a white oak, of course! Then I could live out the rest of my years as a wine barrel, soaking in the heavenly fermenting juices while imparting my unique qualities to the elixir of the gods!”

French white oak may not be the only tree species favored by winemakers to enhance their wines’ unique flavors, but it certainly is one of the most preferred due to its unique characteristics. After all, with the price of a new barrel now topping $1,000, they’d better start with some of the finest wood on the planet!

The finest wines have long been associated with barrel aging to impart the most desirable flavors, from spices, such as cinnamon or clove, to heavier notes like tobacco and cocoa, and even sweeter tastes like vanilla. Wine barrels have been around for well over two thousand years, and even then the Romans were envious of the fabulous wines that came from their Gallic (French) territories.

THE ADVANTAGES OF THE BARREL

Why barrels? Let’s see … could it have something to do with ease of transport? They’re rounded, easy to move and stack for storage – particularly at around 140 lbs. empty. That makes getting the product to the end user a lot easier. Due to the stress put on the staves (the 30 or so wooden boards that make up the bulging, cylindrical barrel sides), like the curves in a wooden boat, the container is extremely well-sealed and unlikely to leak or break. Yes, barrels offered many advantages to the marketplace over their predecessors, heavy clay amorphae.

The ancient art of barrel-making has been passed down, in many cases, for generations. A Master Cooper spends many years learning his craft, from stave selection and assembly to the final planing and finish sanding of a completed barrel.

FROM TREE TO TOASTING

Perhaps surprisingly, according to Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage, only four percent of a tree’s wood actually makes the grade (literally) to become a barrel. Fine cooperage begins with tree selection. And that means the finest oaks grow in the center of France—in such famous forests as Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Trancais and Vosges. In these forests (strictly controlled by the French government for quality and sustainability), trees are carefully chosen for their second act in life as a wine barrel by their shape, height and growing conditions, as well as grain.

Seguin Moreau begins harvesting the trees used in barrels at approximately 100 to 125 years of age, but some aren’t harvested until they’ve reached the ripe age of 200! And given that such a small percentage of the tree makes it to the final round as a barrel, each tree produces only enough wood to make three barrels. (The remainder of the tree’s wood isn’t wasted—part goes to furniture, railroad ties, etc., as well oak chips and loose staves used inside tanks and vats.)

Once harvested, Seguin Moreau’s barrel-bound wood is hand sawn, quartered and stacked in tiers for outdoor “seasoning.” This process of aging the wood for at least two years, ensures the barrels don’t leak later on. During the passage of time, the wood’s aromatics begin to emerge as moisture evaporates, leaving behind favorable sugars and reducing harsh tannins. Eventually, it all gets nicely toasted over a fire. But I’m getting ahead of the story in the plot.

LA HAUTE TONNELLERIE

You’ve heard of Haute Cuisine and Haute Couture? (It’s funny how the French always seem to have a corner on the bestfoods and high fashion.) Seguin Moreau epitomizes La Haute Tonnellerie – the best in wine barrel-making – turning in Oscar-worthy performances with each barrel produced. (Tonneau is barrel in French.)

As the show begins, the cooper selects and assembles the staves, ringing the primary (chime) hoop of a new barrel with the chosen boards. This process is known as the “mise en rose” or “raising of the barrel.” Next, additional hoops are added to hold and tighten the staves in place.

In the next scene, the art of fine cooperage truly comes into play as the unfinished barrel is then subjected to heat (fire) and fine sprays of water to make the staves pliable and then to bend into shape. Master coopers carefully inspect the barrel joints to ensure they line up perfectly—no leaks allowed. After the barrel toasts and the ends are crozed, the heads (sealed with river reed between the joints) are inserted.

FROM LIGHT TO DARK TOAST

The toasting (“bousinage” at Seguin Moreau) of a barrel is an art form onto itself. There are more than four separate levels of toasting from light to heavy, each of which brings out the barrel’s own aromatics,and thus influencing the wine’s final flavors.

The art of accurate barrel toasting varies throughout the day due to temperature, climate, humidity and other factors. Thus, use of a simple egg-timer to gauge the amount of toasting would never be possible to produce the best and most consistent quality of toasting from one barrel to the next with so many variables at play (though a cooperage will have clocks that track the toasting time!)

BARREL USE IN THE WINERY

Having prepared all of its life to become the vessel in which delectable wines mature, the new barrel arrives at the winery ready to take the stage. It gets a brief dress rehearsal in which its joints are tested by being filled with water—this allows the wood to swell together, ensuring no wine seeps through the grain. And having been judged worthy to serve its role, the barrel is then filled to capacity (approx. 60 gallons, or 25 cases) through the bung hole.

From time to time, the clear silicone bung is removed by the winemaker to check on aging and to rack the wine. Often a small portion of the wine has disappeared. Known as the Angel’s Share, the small amount of evaporation from the barrel always happens, no matter how tightly it is sealed. Higher temperatures increase water evaporation; higher humidity increases alcohol evaporation.

Perhaps the most important factor in evaporation is the quality of the wood. Tighter, straight wood grains slow evaporation. However, the winemaker doesn’t wish to eliminate evaporation altogether, as it is the oxygen working its way through the wood that imparts the finer qualities to the wine. Very, very tight wood grain would take a very long time to release aromatics and toast into the wine. (3-4 years of aging your Cabernet? No thanks!)

Upon inspection, using a wine thief to withdraw a sample from the barrel, the winemaker has the barrel topped off once again (to ensure the great amount of surface contact of the wine to the wood) and the bung is replaced.

Wineries replace a percentage of their barrels every year. Winemakers often use a blend of wine from both older and new barrels to achieve the flavor and aromatic profiles of their finished product. After two to three uses, a barrel is generally considered to be “neutral” in imparting its own aromatics and flavoring. And after five years, barrels take their final curtain call, retiring to become planters, yard furniture and other creative products for the home, having fulfilled their duty in service to create the finest of wines.

To learn more about the fine art of cooperage, join us on Bastille Day, July 14th, at Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage, for a special presentation with its President and CEO, François Peltereau-Villeneuve. Details on reserving your spot here.

You can also read more about cooperage in this article in the Napa Valley Register. And many thanks to Lynae Anderson for her assistance on this article.