Ontario apples in demand for craft cider: The New Farm






Ontario apples in demand for craft cider: The New Farm
By Owen RobertsSpecial to the Star
Mon., Sept. 4, 2017

Gala, Honeycrisp, Ambrosia and Northern Spy: these are the popular Ontario apple varieties Prof. John Cline and his pomology research team at the University of Guelph have focused on for decades. Consumers like these varieties and they grow well in Ontario.

Cline and his team — working out of the Simcoe Research Station — have helped apple producers adopt new management techniques that make growing trees and harvesting apples much more efficient and marketable.
Cline is particularly hopeful about a dozen apple cider varieties he and his team are working with. He believes these new products could be on the market in two years.
Cline is particularly hopeful about a dozen apple cider varieties he and his team are working with. He believes these new products could be on the market in two years. (Liz Beddall for the Toronto Star)

That’s key when apples are ready to come off the tree.

Lately, they’ve been turning their sights towards apples purposely grown for hard cider.

That’s a switch. At one time, cider was the poor cousin of the apple sector. Often it was made from apples that consumers avoided — for example, apples that were slightly blemished, irregularly shaped or had fallen to the orchard floor (called “grounders”).

Nothing was really wrong with these apples. But consumers looking for attractive table stock turn up their noses at imperfection.

Over the past decade or so, though, cider’s image has changed. It’s become the go-to alcoholic drink for millennials who believe it represents their values.

“Apple cider has a fresh, healthy connotation to it, so it feels natural to buy it where you buy other fresh, healthy foods,” says Toronto-based produce buyer and industry consultant Mike Mauti of Execulytics.

And then there’s craft cider, which further distances millennials’ libations from that of their parents.
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Craft cider is a higher-level product within the $24-million cider market. The LCBO describes craft cider’s growth as “exponential.” Last year alone, sales boomed 35 per cent.

About one-third of all cider offered now at the LCBO is craft cider.

Cideries that produce craft products distinguish themselves with the local ingredients their customers crave. They begin with fresh-pressed juice from local apple varieties (and, to a lesser extent, pears) and not much else. Craft cideries don’t add extra sugar, colour or flavour to their product.

They don’t need to, if the apples are specifically for cider. That means they have natural traits such as extra acidity, high sugars and tannins.

With support from the provincial and federal governments and the Ontario Craft Cider Association, Cline and his team are testing nearly 30 different apple cider varieties, primarily from France and Great Britain. As well, he’s part of an expert group coming together at the university specifically to service the hard cider and brewing industry.

University of Guelph Prof. John Cline and his team have helped apple producers adopt new management techniques that make growing trees and harvesting apples more efficient and marketable.
University of Guelph Prof. John Cline and his team have helped apple producers adopt new management techniques that make growing trees and harvesting apples more efficient and marketable.

In some cases, cider apple varieties are extra tart or sweet, much more so than popular table varieties. And that makes them ideal for cider makers to work with them, blend them and get unique combinations and unique products that appeal to consumers.

Cline is particularly hopeful about a dozen varieties he and his team are working with. He believes these new varieties could be on the market in two years.

“A lot of cideries are using fresh apples from popular culinary apple stocks, because that’s all what’s available to them,” Cline says. “That’s OK, but the craft cideries want something special: a juice that offers unique flavours and high tannins. That’s what we’re working to develop.”

Ontario has apple-friendly farms

Apples are a great crop for this province. “Ontario’s favourable climate, its adjacency to water and its excellent soil provide rich conditions for growing apples. That’s made it a hotbed for producing craft cider,” says Hamed Foroush, chief technology officer at Adeeb Consulting Inc. of Toronto.

Readers say phase out cages sooner

Last week’s readers’ poll was the most decisive since The New Farm series began. At press time, almost 570 of 730 reader responses said the 2036 target for Canadian egg farmers to phase out housing cages for hens was too long. Thanks to readers for all responses.

Owen Roberts is an agricultural journalist at the University of Guelph, and president of the 5,000-member International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. Follow him on Twitter @TheUrbanCowboy or contact him by email at urbancowboycanada@gmail.com .

Denis and Nicole recommend hard cheeses and dried fruit with their Ontario Craft Cider! Enjoy!


Everything you need to know about icewine

Everything you need to know about Icewine


Image result for image of red and white icewine glasses in snow

Article written by Edith Hancock

Let’s start at with the basics. Ice wine (or Eiswein in German) is a type of dessert wine that can only be produced in cold climates. It is made with grapes that have been frozen while they’re still on the vine. This is because the sugars in the fruit, unlike water, do not freeze, so while the grapes themselves are frozen, it’s possible to concentrate their flavours when it’s time to harvest. Unlike other sweet wines like Sauternes, the grapes aren’t affected by noble rot, and so their characteristic refreshing sweetness balanced by high acidity.  is entirely reliant on the power of the elements.

Although we know that ice wine was being made in ancient Rome, the first modern example comes from Franconia in Germany, in 1794.

While frozen, the must (which I’ll use instead of grape juice given the fruit is partially frozen), is then pressed using a special machine (see video below for a run-down from Niagara College in Canada, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine.

The whole process from harvest to press can take around six hours, and must only be done when the weather conditions are right, so it can be risky (in some years, the grapes might not freeze at all). Sometimes harvests might not happen until after the new year.

The juice is then separated from the seeds and stems before fermentation begins. It may take months to complete the fermentation because of the grapes’ high sugar levels, and the wines can age for many years.

Some wineries do freeze their grapes artificially — a process called cryoextraction — although it’s only permitted in countries that don’t normally produce icewine and don’t have regulations for its production in place.

Although in theory you can make icewine from anything, typical grapes used include Riesling, considered to be the noblest variety by German winemakers; Vidal, which is popular in Ontario, Canada; and Cabernet Franc. Some producers are experimenting with other grapes like Chenin Blanc and Merlot. Those made from white grapes are usually pale yellow or light gold in colour when they are young and deepen with age, or pink when made with red grapes.


What are Hops?

What are Hops?

Hops (Humulus lupulus) are a perennial plant of the Cannabaceae
family that also includes the genus Cannabis. In beer hops provide
bitterness to balance the sweetness of malt sugars, as well as flavors,
aromas, resins that increase head retention, and antiseptics to retard
spoilage. Often referred to as a “vine”, hops are actually a “bine”,
using a strong stem and stiff hairs to climb rather than tendrils and
suckers to attach. It is the flower of the hop plant that is used in
brewing. Hop flowers or cones resemble pine cones bhopsut are composed
of thin, green, papery, leaf-like bracts. At the base of these bracts are
waxy, yellow lupulin glands that contain alpha acids responsible for
bitterness and essential oils that give beer flavor and aroma. The plant
has separate male and female bines, but only the female bines develop
cones. If male plants are allowed to pollinate them, the flowers will produce seeds,
rendering them useless for brewing. Aside from their use in beer, hops also have medicinal application as a sleep aid. Hop filled pillows were once a common remedy for insomnia.

Day length during the growing season has a major effect on yield. For this reason the
majority of the world’s commercial hop production occurs between latitudes 35° and 55°,
either north or south of the equator. The largest producers of hops
are Germany, the United States, China, and the Czech Republic.
Other important growing regions include England, New Zealand,
and increasingly Argentina. Climate and soil conditions have a
major effect on hops. Varieties developed in one region will have
different flavor and aroma profiles when grown in another.
Hop plants sprout in the spring and die back to a cold-hardy
rhizome in the fall. During peak growing season they grow very
rapidly, up to twenty inches per week. Commercial hop growers
cultivate hop bines on V-shaped, wire and twine trellises that are
up to twenty feet tall. In spring, at the start of the growing season,
two to three young shoots are trained in a clockwise direction
around each horizontal length of twine. The harvest season begins
in August and continues into October with different varieties of
hops coming ready at different times. Harvesting machines cut the
bines and twine at the top and bottom and load them onto trucks.
They then pass through a series of sorters to separate the cones from the stems and
leaves. The cones are placed in a kiln where 140° air is circulated, drying the cones to
about 30% of their green weight. After cooling the cones are compressed into bales or
further processed into pellets or extracts.

Types of Hops for Brewing

Hops are available to brewers in whole-leaf, pellet, or extract form. American craft brewers
have also started using fresh, unprocessed hops to brew “harvest” or “fresh-hop” ales.
Each of these forms has advantages and disadvantages.
• Whole-leaf Hops – Whole-leaf hops are simply the dried hop
cones that have been compressed into bales. They are
believed to have greater aromatic qualities than the other
forms and are easier to strain from wort. However, because
they retain more of the vegetative matter greater volumes
must be used. They soak up more wort than other forms
resulting in greater loss to the brewer. Their bulk also makes
them more difficult to store and more susceptible to spoilage.

Hops can be generally divided into two broad categories, bittering and aroma. Those hop
varieties that contain high levels of alpha acids are called bittering hops because a lower
volume is needed to achieve high levels of bitterness. Those with lower alpha acid content
but higher levels of essential oils are called aroma hops. Beyond this broad division,
general characterizations can be made based on the traditional area of origin.
• Continental or Noble Hops – The noble hops originate in central Europe and are among
the most prized of the aroma hops. There are four noble hops, Hallertau, Tettnang,
Spalt, and Czech Saaz. These hops impart a smooth bitterness and spicy/floral aromas.
The noble hops are often used in lagers. Common descriptors for these hops include
spicy, black pepper, licorice, perfume, floral, and herbal.

• English Hops – The most traditional English hop varieties fall into the low alpha acid
aroma hop category. The most common are East Kent Goldings and Fuggle. Other
higher alpha English hop varieties include Challenger, Target, and Progress. Common
descriptors for the English hops include herbal, grassy, earthy, floral, and fruity.
• American Hops – Bright, fruity, and resinous, these are the signature hops of American
pale ale and IPA. The United States grows a number of hop varieties that can be
considered duel use hops, with high alpha acid content and pleasant aromatic qualities.
Commonly used American hop varieties are Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Willamette,
and Amarillo. Common descriptors for the American hop varieties are citrus, grapefruit,
resinous, piney, fruity, and spicy.

Hops in the Brewing Process

Brewers use hops primarily to get bitterness, flavor, and aroma. Hops can be added at
several points in the brewing process to enhance one or the other of those things. While
most hops are added in the boil kettle, they can be added a various stages prior to and
after the boil as well.
• Kettle Hops – Kettle hops is the name given to those hops added to the kettle during
the boil. These include early addition hops for bitterness and late addition hops for
flavor and aroma.
• Bittering Hops – Bitterness from hops comes
from alpha acids found in the lupulin glands of
the hop flowers. The main alpha acids are
humulone and cohumulone and adhumulone. In
order to become bitter these acids must be
chemically altered, isomerized, by boiling.
Isomerization is a chemical process in which a
compound is changed into another form with the
same chemical composition but a different
structure. The percentage of the potential alpha
acid that is isomerized is referred to as
utilization. Because the length of the boil determines degree of utilization,
bittering hops are usually added at the beginning of the boil or with at least 60-
minutes of boiling time remaining.
• Flavor Hops – Hop flavor and aroma are derived from essential oils found in the
lupulin glands. These oils include humulene, myrcene, geraniol, and limonene,
among others. The flavors are released as these oils become dissolved into the
wort during the boil. However, these oils are highly volatile and are to a large
degree lost to evaporation. For this reason flavor hops are added with twenty to
forty minutes remaining in the boil. This provides a compromise between
isomerization of the alpha acids and loss of essential oils.

• Aroma Hops – Because the aromatic essential oils are highly volatile, aroma
hops are added in the last minutes of the boil to minimize their loss to

article written by Michael


Portable Draught System – How do they work?

cheers with beer mugsPortable Draught Beer System (also known as Jockey box)

What are they and how do they work?

A jockey box system can sometimes be called a coil box or cold plate box. The name Jockey stems from the portability of the unit as it is easy to move from one location to another (jockey around).

A Jockey Box system contains all the equipment necessary to dispense beer; cooler box, beer line – stainless steel coils or cold plates, shank, faucet, CO² regulator, CO² tank and beer line connectors, and some come equipped with a drain tray and cup holder. CO ² gas is used to pressurized the keg for dispensing.

The key to the Jockey Box dispensing cold beer is the coil or cold plate unit that acts like a flash chiller meaning that the stainless steel beer line coil or aluminum cold plate (stainless steel line is encapsulated) is refrigerated using an ice water bath in the case of the coil system or ice only with the cold plate.

The Jockey Box system works on the principles that the keg is sitting at room temperature, 70º F and when the beer passes through the coil or cold plate located in the cooler box the beer temperature will drop to the ideal dispensing temperature of 38º F. It is the perfect system for large parties or special events such as a family reunion or company picnic. As it does not require electric it can be set up anywhere. CO ² gas is used to pressurized the keg for dispensing.

Keeping the keg cool is important to the function of the Jockey Box system and that is why it is recommended that keg jackets be used to ensure cold beer. Kegs when used with a Jockey Box system should never be stored in direct sunlight and in the heat of the summer it is wise to place the keg in an ice water bath in a tub. This way, the beer in the keg stays cold and the performance of the Jockey Box remains optimum.

Coil systems – The coil should be fully submerged in the ice water bath and as the ice melts the water should be drained and more ice added. Be sure to keep the drain closed on the cooler box and only open when draining water to add ice.

Cold plate systems – only ice should be used with cold plates, no water, and as the ice melts it should continually drain, remember to leave the cooler box drain open and run a drain line to a bucket to collect the water

Jockey Boxes are not for everyone, because they are not designed for long-term use. they are, however, perfect for 1 to 2 day parties and special occasions. They are completely portable and fun to use.

Just like all draft beer systems, Jockey Box systems require regular cleaning. All beer contact points – faucet body and faucet parts, coils or cold plates, beer line connectors and drain tray should be cleaned after each use.

Serve your own draught beer at your next party!

Contact The Glass Half Full for all the details.



The importance of cleaning and sanitizing






Cleaning and Sanitizing……

“They can make the difference between sound wine and spoiled wine.”

This article pertains mostly to those who make wine at home and also to Wine-making stores.

For those of you who come and bottle your wine at a Wine making store, it is very important that your bottles get rinsed as soon as you have enjoyed a bottle of wine.  All you need to do is rinse your bottle with warm water and make sure you don’t leave any water behind. For screw top bottles, leave the cap off. This will prevent any water left in the bottle from eventually turn to mold.

Prior to bottling your wine, use a water rinse and a  food grade sanitizer rinse. Sanitizer protects your wine and bottle from bacteria and oxidizing. However, as this article suggests, if your bottles are not clean prior to bottling it will spoil your wine despite our rinsing and sanitizing and we will in any case refuse any bottles that don’t look clean for the sake of your wine.

Daniel Pambianchi, author and winemaker, was talking about cleaning and sanitizing when he put that maxim in Techniques in Home Winemaking. Home winemakers take serious risks if they do not pay attention to these critical areas. The following is an exert from Daniel’s article on cleaning and sanitizing:

Cleaning means to remove soil, grease, and other residues from the surface of utensils or equipment. That serves two beneficial purposes: It removes contaminants that might directly affect the quality of your wine, and it clears the surface for effective contact with a sanitizer. Sanitizers kill or inactivate any remaining microorganisms on the surface.

Cleaning Products

These are manufactured to help soften, dissolve, and lift off dirt, grease, and other contaminants. With a single exception (discussed later), all are intended to be rinsed off. To help with that, they are formulated for easy rinsing to avoid leaving material behind. Whatever you use, read the instructions on the package and observe safety guidelines. Common household cleaners like dishwashing detergent should be avoided in the winery. Those products are scented and the perfume may linger or leave a film or other residues when used on plastic containers, tanks, or hoses. Use a brush or scrubbing sponge to remove films. If you cannot reach a surface to scrub it, try soaking for several hours.



Although effective, this technique is limited to objects that are small enough to fit in a pot and are sufficiently heat-resistant to be boiled. Boil at least 15 minutes. No need to rinse, just drain and allow to cool.


I use sulfites in my wine to protect against oxidation and microbial spoilage. I use a 10% solution of potassium metabisulfite and add according to a guide like the one at www.winemakermag.com/sulfitecalculator. For sanitizing utensils and equipment with sulfite, Pambianchi recommends a 1% effective solution of sulfite, kept in contact with surfaces for 10 minutes. He notes that citric acid can be added to improve effectiveness. Because sulfite needs to be rinsed off before proceeding, it includes a small risk of re-contaminating the sanitized surface with non-sterile tap water.


BTF and IO Star are brands of iodine-complex sanitizers. Using 1⁄2 oz. (14.5 mL) to 1 oz. (29 mL) in 5 gallons (19 L) of water provides active iodine at 12.5 to 25 ppm (mg/L). With a one- to two-minute contact time with clean surfaces, most organisms are effectively killed or disabled. For some applications, air drying is recommended. In many cases, you can just drain the sanitizer out and proceed. In my experience, a small amount of residue introduces no odor or flavor to my wine. Some users prefer to rinse when they have confidence that the rinse water is fresh and clean. The characteristic amber iodine color may stain soft plastic like vinyl hoses, but does not damage them otherwise. It is not recommended on elastomers. As the color of a batch fades over a period of a few days, you will need to add more iodophor or prepare a new batch.

Chlorine Bleach:

My advice is never use it. While chlorine is effective at killing microbes, it has two serious deficits for use in a winery. First, the odor is so strong that it must be completely rinsed off to avoid off-odors in your wine. Second, and most important, chlorine is often a critical player in development of TCA contamination in wine. TCA, trichloroanisole, is the bad actor in “cork taint” odor of spoiled wine. Given the opportunity to interact with porous surfaces such as wood or cardboard, particularly if mold is present, it can contaminate an entire winery.

Citric Acid:

Although not an aggressive sanitizer, citric acid introduces a low pH and helps retard spoilage organisms. It is especially useful on porous surfaces like inside an oak barrel, where you should never use any kind of sanitizer (except steam or sulfite). Use percarbonate to clean a problem barrel and follow with a citric acid rinse. Use about 1 Tbsp. (14 g) per gallon (4 L) of water and rinse off after use.

The Winemaking Sequence
Harvest and crush:

Grapes are not washed at harvest. All your winemaking equipment should be washed, but when to start sanitizing is a winemaker’s decision. I wash my picking bins and my crusher/destemmer, but do not sanitize them. I do sanitize the food-grade plastic fermenters I crush the grapes into.


Besides the fermenters, I wash my stainless-steel punch-down tool after each use. I sanitize it just before using it again, using my spray bottle of ethanol. Other winemakers I know keep a bucket of iodophor or Star San in the winery and either dip the punch-down tool before use or leave it in the sanitizer between uses. Although brief contact is not a problem, Star San may corrode stainless steel if left in contact with it.


After washing with percarbonate and rinsing off, I drench my press with a citric acid solution. After letting it stand for a few minutes, I rinse that off with clean water.

Bulk Aging:

TDC or percarbonate do a great job cleaning glass or plastic carboys and stainless steel tanks. Sanitize with iodophor or Star San. For oak barrels, simply rinse with hot water. If you suspect a problem with a barrel, use a soaking technique of up to 1 lb. (0.45 kg) of sodium percarbonate in a 60-gallon (227 L) barrel. Dissolve the percarbonate in a few gallons (~10 L) of water first and funnel into the barrel. Fill with clean water and soak several hours or overnight. Pour out, rinse, and then swirl a few gallons (~10 L) of citric acid solution to neutralize alkaline residue from the percarbonate. Rinse again, drain, and fill with wine.


Clean and sanitize the hoses and receiving vessels with your products of choice. For pumps and hoses, prepare buckets full of cleaner, plain water, and sanitizer. Recirculate one after another for two minutes at a time.


Spray the jaws of your corker with ethanol just before using. Wash and sanitize used bottles as you do carboys. I trust new bottles are sanitary as received and simply fill them. Always sanitize the racking cane or pump and hoses. Corks sealed in their original bags should be packed in sulfur dioxide gas and need not be sanitized. If the pack has been opened, dip corks a sulfite solution just before use.

Heed Daniel Pambianchi’s maxim from beginning to end and enjoy your clean, sound wine!

Good cellaring makes for good wine!



Good cellaring makes for good wine!

There are many reasons to age wine. Cellaring your wine allows all the elements in a wine (fruit, acid, oak, and tannins) to integrate and develop a delicate balance, and optimize the wine’s aging potential.

Here are some tips to cellar your wines well:


Constant exposure to light produces chemical reactions in wine that cause it to deteriorate. White wines and champagnes are the most vulnerable. Try to keep the cellar dark when not in use.


A relative humidity of 50-70% is the acceptable range. Insufficient humidity may cause corks to dry out and lose their elasticity which lets air get into the bottle. Too much humidity (over 70%) can cause mold to grow on corks.


A temperature of 12-15°C (54-59° F) is ideal for allowing the wine to age steadily without risking premature aging or oxidation. Most importantly a constant temperature is best, even if it is slightly outside of the ideal range.


Synthetic corks are great for long-term storage (1-5 years). They eliminate problems such as leakage and random oxidation. Agglomerated (recycled) corks are suitable for aging wines for up to one year.


Sulphites help to preserve the wine from spoilage and oxidation. Sulphite dissipates with age and is important for the long-term health of the wine.


It’s natural for wines (especially high-end heavy reds) to shed some tannin during aging. Vibrations can cause bottle sediment to stay suspended, creating either a haze or “floaties”.


A Primer on Viognier

viognier fruity image 

A Primer on Viognier


Viognier is a white wine grape variety. It originated from the Rhône Valley in France. Outside of the Rhône, Viognier can be found in regions of North and South America as well as Australia and New Zealand. In some wine regions, the variety is co-fermented with the red wine grape Syrah where it can contribute to the color and bouquet of the wine.

Like Chardonnay, Viognier has the potential to produce full-bodied wines with a lush, soft character. In contrast to Chardonnay, the Viognier varietal has more natural aromatics that include notes of peach, pears, violets and minerality. The potential quality of Viognier is highly dependent on viticultural practices and climate with the grape requiring a long, warm growing season in order to fully ripen but not a climate that is too hot to where the grape develops high levels of sugars and potential alcohol before its aromatic notes can develop. The grape is naturally a low yielding variety which can make it a less economically viable planting for some vineyards.

Viognier wines are well known for their floral aromas. There are also many other powerful flower and fruit aromas which can be perceived in these wines depending on where they were grown, the weather conditions and how old the vines were. Although some of these wines, especially those from old vines and the late-harvest wines, are suitable for aging, most are intended to be consumed young. Viogniers more than three years old tend to lose many of the floral aromas that make this wine unique. Aging these wines will often yield a very crisp drinking wine which is almost completely flat in the nose. Depending on the winemaking style the wine can often hit its peak at one year of age.

The highly aromatic and fruit forward nature of the grape allows Viognier to pair well with spicy foods such as Thai and other Asian cuisine.

Treat yourself to the discovery of Viognier wines this summer!

Oak Barrel Chemistry: Techniques


Author:  Daniel Pambianchi Issue: Feb/Mar 2011

The benefits of fermenting or aging wine in toasted oak barrels are indisputable and unmatched by any other type of wood. Not only do oak compounds impart aromas and flavors as well as body and structure, they also help improve wine color and stability.

In this column, I will discuss the chemistry of oak wood to understand its impact on winemaking and wine style. In Tim Vandergrift’s two-part series “Barreling Along” in the October-November 2010 and December 2010-January 2011 issues of WineMaker, he discusses barrel preparation and use in kit winemaking; the principles extend to winemaking from juice or grapes. Here, we will build on Tim’s information and drill a little deeper into the chemistry of oak. (You can also review “Techniques” in the April-May, June-July and August-September 2009 issues of WineMaker for more background on advanced wine chemistry concepts.)

White oak of the Quercus genus is almost exclusively the only type of wood used in barrel making because of its affinity for wine. But there is a plethora of Quercus species from many regions of the world to choose from, each having different characteristics and therefore imparting different aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel, which are influenced by such factors as regional forest climate, age of trees, and tightness of wood grain. Q. robur is the most widespread species in Europe while its subspecies Q. sessilis and Q. pendunculata are most often used for premium French barrels, and Q. alba is predominantly used for American and Canadian barrels, which tend to impart more “oakiness.” We’ll see why.

Organoleptic profile is also greatly influenced by production methods, namely, how the wood is milled (split vs. sawed), how it is dried (air vs. kiln) and for how long, and the extent of toasting (light vs. medium vs. heavy). This means that oak compounds transferred to wine can have dramatically different characteristics and chemical behaviors that will impact wine chemistry and quality and how it evolves and changes over the period wine is aged in barrels.

The composition of oak wood

Raw, untreated oak wood comprises non-volatile compounds, that is, those that we cannot smell but which may impact flavors and mouthfeel, and volatile compounds, that is, those that we could smell if above detection threshold and in sufficient concentration.

The most significant non-volatile compounds include: the polysaccharides cellulose and hemicellulose which together with lignin make up the complex, strong woody matrix of tree trunks; astringent and bitter-tasting hydrolyzable tannins present in high concentrations; coumarins; gallic acid; and harsh condensed tannins but which exist in relatively small concentrations.

Cellulose is a very large polymer of glucose where the high number of hydroxyl (OH) groups can form many hydrogen bonds (with adjacent oxygen-containing molecules) to give wood its structural strength. Hemicellulose is a shorter polymer of glucose and many different sugar monomers form hydrogen bonds with cellulose. And lignin fills the spaces in the cell wall between cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin components.

Cellulose undergoes relatively little change during seasoning and toasting and therefore has little impact on wine chemistry. But hemicellulose and lignin contents are much reduced with increasing levels of toasting. High concentrations of hemicelluloses could otherwise be a source of acetic spoilage with increasing risk as barrels get older. That’s because hemicellulose contains acetyl compounds having acetic-like structures that can hydrolyze into acetic acid and cause volatile acidity (VA).

Hydrolyzable tannins are so-called (though mainly for historical reasons) because they can be hydrolyzed, or split, into their gallic and/or ellagic acid and glucose components. Those tannins from gallic acid are known as gallotannins and those from ellagic acid as ellagitannins. The class of ellagitannins is the more significant of these two and, specifically, castalagin and vescalagin are the most important ellagitannins derived from oak wood.

Coumarins are derivatives of the sweet-scented, bitter-tasting coumarin compound found in some plants and wood. Coumarins in oak wood include bitter-tasting scopoline and esculin, compounds which are found bound to sugar components but which then hydrolyze to the more neutral tasting scopoletin and esculetin compounds.

European oak is known to have higher concentrations of ellagitannins and coumarins compared to American oak. Harshness and bitterness are exacerbated by gallic acid (a phenolic acid) content, which contributes an acidic taste, and you’ll recall that acidity enhances bitterness. But you’ll also notice that hydrolyzable tannins and coumarins can impart that familiar oak sweetness because these compounds can hydrolyze and release sugar molecules. But beware! Sugar can also become a source of food for spoilage microorganisms if wine is not adequately protected against these intruders. Such spoilage in barrels can be difficult, and even impossible, to eradicate.

Condensed tannins, also known as proanthocyanidins, are very large catechin and epicatechin polymers (found abundantly in cacao and tea) which are not susceptible to being cleaved by hydrolysis and are therefore often called non-hydrolyzable tannins, although most condensed tannins are soluble in water or alcohol. Condensed tannins are less astringent than hydrolyzable tannins and polymerize (condense) over long periods of time to give wine its “ageability.”

The most significant volatile compounds include: long straight-chained and phenolic (cyclic) aldehydes; volatile phenols; and oak lactones.

Aldehydes constitute a class of compounds that include many familiar volatile and oxidation-prone substances such as acetaldehyde (ethanal), which is found in oxidized wine and easily identifiable by its distinctive nut-like smell.

In raw oak wood, long straight-chained aldehydes include high concentrations of trans-oct-2-enal, trans-non-2-enal, and decanal, 8, 9 and 10-carbon aldehydes, respectively, which together are responsible for the odor known as plank smell.

Phenolic aldehydes are characterized by a closed-ring chemical structure; the most significant is vanillaldehyde, commonly referred to as vanillin, which is responsible for imparting vanilla-like aromas. Other less significant phenolic aldehydes include syringaldehyde, coniferaldehyde and sinapaldehyde; however, these will only play an important role in toasted oak.

Volatile phenols include compounds that are most often associated with toasted oak, but in raw wood, there is only eugenol, which is responsible for aromas of cloves, and to a lesser extent, phenol.

And then there are oak lactones, namely, methyloctalactone and its variants, which are found in higher concentrations in American oak. These are responsible for sweet, spicy, woody, fresh, leather, and coconut aromas.

Let’s now examine how these compounds are affected when wood is seasoned and toasted.

The chemistry of seasoning and toasting

Oak destined for barrel-making must be seasoned-artificially or naturally-to reduce excessive humidity, undesirable aldehydes, and harsh ellagitannins.

In artificial seasoning, oak planks are heated in an oven (kiln) at approximately 50 °C (122 °F) for up to one month. This is a quick and economical way of seasoning oak but it is considered far less inferior to natural seasoning because artificial seasoning does not suppress or remove as much of the undesirable components. Kiln-dried wood also has a higher content of astringent tannins and bitter coumarins, contains less eugenol, vanillin, and methyloctalactone. It may also lead to more shrinkage cracks in barrels, which may then cause problems, such as seepage, especially around the bung area.

The best barrels — and most expensive — are coopered from two- or three-year air-dried wood, which increases concentrations of aromatic compounds, namely eugenol, syringic and vanillic aldehydes produced by the breakdown of lignin, as well as methyloctalactone, and a decrease in plank-smelling aldehydes. Castalagin, vescalagin and coumarins also undergo hydrolysis, reducing the astringent and bitter-tasting content.

But the most dramatic structural and chemical changes in the wood occur with toasting where the inside barrel surface is set over a fire.

There are generally three levels of toasting. University of British Columbia professor Nigel Eggers describes barrel toasts in his “Biochemistry of Wine” cirriculum as the following: “Light toast (LT) indicates a toasting time of approximately five minutes, with a surface temperature between 120–180 °C (248–356 °F). The inside of the barrel has a spongy appearance, due to modification of the lignins and hemicelluloses, while the cellulose structure remains intact. Medium toast (MT) corresponds to a toasting time of approximately ten minutes, producing a surface temperature of approximately 200 °C (392 °F). The parietal surface components disappear by fusion. Heavy toast (HT) corresponds to a toasting time of more than 15 minutes, resulting in a surface temperature of approximately 230 °C (446 °F). The cell structure is considerably disorganized, while the surface is blistered and covered with tiny cracks.”

Toasting substantially reduces the plank-smelling aldehydes and the heat causes lignins to degrade into their volatile aldehyde and ketone derivatives. (Ketones represent a class of compounds similar to aldehydes and which contribute positive volatile aromas, such as diacetyl found in malolactic-fermented wines, though it also includes spoilage aromas such as acetone in wines in advanced stages of acetic acid spoilage.)

There is a commensurate increase in phenolic aldehydes and ketones and substantial production in guaiacol and syringol and their respective derivatives, all responsible for the smoky, spicy aromas. Interestingly, while guaiacol and syringol levels increase with more toasting (although 4-methylguaiacol and 4-allylsyringol decrease with heavy toasting), phenolic aldehyde and eugenol levels decrease from medium to heavy toasting. Heavy toasting also introduces little cresol, which impart a tar-like smell, 4-ethylguaiacol and 4-propylguaiacol, responsible for bacon, spice, clove or smoky aromas, as well as ketones derived from hexoses in the presence of nitrogen-containing substances (Eggers, 2006). These ketones include cyclotene, maltol and isomaltol, which can add aromas of freshly baked bread and caramel.

Toasting also increases the amount of oak lactones responsible for flowery, spice, coconut aromas though the incremental effects of heavy vs. medium toasting are not significant.

Toasting also introduces a new subclass of compounds known as furfurals or furanic aldehydes, which are again derivatives of aldehydes but containing a cyclic structure similar to phenolic aldehydes but where a carbon is replaced by an oxygen atom in the ring. Volatile furfurals include 5-hydroxyfurfural, which imparts caramel, bread and almond aromas, and 5-methylfurfural, which imparts notes of toasted almond.

Barrel aging vs. fermentation

Barrel aging and barrel fermentation are not the same; their chemistry and impact on wine are very different.

In barrel aging, wine undergoes slow and progressive micro-oxygenation whereby an infinitesimally small amount of air enters the barrel through the tight but porous wood structure as well as through the stave and head joints. During this slow maturation period, oxygen binds to polyphenols and causes what is interpreted as softer tannins. And we also know that oak aging — specifically, toasted oak — stabilizes pigments, thereby stabilizing color as tannins bind to anthocyanins.

In barrel fermentation, there is a high population of very active yeast cells assimilating aromatic oak compounds and tannins. When wine is later racked from its lees, and particularly when fined and/or filtered, yeast cells are separated out, taking those compounds out too. Yeast cells can also alter some of these compounds and translocate them back to the wine; for example, ferulic acid, a phenolic phytochemical found in wood cell wall components, can be converted into 4-vinylguaiacol and impart clove-like properties (Zoecklein et al., 1999). Vanillic and furanic aldehydes are also reduced into their odorless alcohols. The result is that barrel-fermented wines will exhibit more subtle oak features than oak-aged wine without prior barrel fermentation.

Additionally, polysaccharides and mannoproteins (proteins bound to mannose, a 6-carbon sugar) in the cell walls of yeast are partially released into the wine during fermentation as enzymes start breaking down those cell walls. Polysaccharides will bind to polyphenols in whites and specifically anthocyanins in reds to reduce but stabilize color. Mannoproteins bind to wood tannins to make wine more supple and less astringent with a creamier mouthfeel, and also improve protein stability and therefore reduce the risk of downstream problems, particularly post-bottling cloudiness. This process continues during sur lie (on the lees) barrel aging in what is known as autolysis and which further improves the organoleptic profile by imparting bread-like, yeasty aromas. Interestingly, sur lie oak-aged wine previously barrel-fermented showed lower concentrations of vanillin (Margalit, 2004) and furanic aldehydes (Zoecklein et al., 1999). Remember to periodically stir the lees back into suspension to reduce the risk of sulfur-containing odors (e.g. hydrogen sulfide, H2S) forming. Also, as the overall tannin and polyphenol concentrations decrease, wine becomes more prone to the effects of oxygen as less polyphenols are available to bind with damaging oxygen radicals.

What type of barrel to choose

So what type of barrel should you buy and use?

That would be like asking what type of car I would recommend for you; it all depends on your budget and your objectives. But as a general guideline, budget notwithstanding, 3-year medium toast barrels are the safest bet. Then, you need to balance the needs of the wine to the style you want to create and match that to a barrel type. For example, if you want to introduce more oak lactones into your wine without long aging, American barrels would be a good choice.

Experiment, learn, and adapt your barrel winemaking. You may also want to have different types of barrels and then blending wines from different barrels; or try aging wine in one type of barrel and then transfer it to another type.


Eggers, Nigel. “The Contribution of Oak.” Biochemistry of Wine. (June 2006). https://people.ok.ubc.ca/neggers/Chem422A/.

Margalit, Yair, Ph.D. James Crum, Ph.D., ed. Concepts in Wine Chemistry. New Edition. South San Francisco, CA: The Wine Appreciation Guild, 2004.

Zoecklein, Bruce W., Kenneth C. Fugelsang, Barry H. Gump, and Fred S. Nury. Wine Analysis and Production. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, Inc., 1999.


Rioja Wine



Rioja Wine

Rioja is one of the major wine-producing regions in Spain. Located in north-west Spain, south of the Cantabrian Mountains and along the Ebro river, the region benefits from a continental climate that is ideal for growing premium-quality grapes.

Rioja’s wines are usually blends of different grape varieties, in much the same way as the famous Bordeaux. Tempranillo is usually the main variety in the blend, providing the majority of the flavor and ageing potential. Grenache contributes alcohol and body, and Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah are sometimes included for structure and complexity.

The wines of Rioja benefit from fermenting and ageing in oak, and as a result they age gracefully for 5-10 years. They are great candidates for consuming young, or for cellaring.

This coming month will be the annual release of our Spanish Reserve Rioja blend made with 100% grapes from a single vinyard in Monsant, Spain. This year we feature a Tempanillo-Syrah-Grenache. Contact us today to reserve yours.