The influence of consumers’ preferences on the wood character of wine

by | Jan 1, 2024 | Practical in the cellar, Technical

Wood barrels were initially used as containers and for transporting wine until winemakers realised that the extraction and porosity of wood contribute to the style and quality of wines. Different cooper practices also influence the style and quality of wines, and it is consequently essential that winemakers take note of consumers’ preferences for wood.

 

Different markets

The increase or decrease in wine volumes exported to markets influences the volumes of wine produced for the specific markets and, thus, the number of barrels bought by cellars. The English market, for instance, might prefer fruity, lighter-style wines, and the American market higher alcohol, full-bodied, woody wines. If a cellar’s exports to the English market decline and increase to the American market, the cellar will have to purchase more barrels.

 

Logistical factors

The Covid-19 pandemic drastically impacted shipping routes and, consequently, the availability frequency of barrels. This situation still needs to be fully resolved, and barrel importers can require orders up to six months in advance to ensure delivery in time for the harvest.

The variation in barrels required by winemakers also affects the availability in time. As a result, winemakers need to be more intuitive to address the situation. The introduction of wood alternatives like staves or chips being put into old barrels is an alternative for some wines.

 

Different oak for different consumers

The millennial generation has a twofold impact on wine styles. As consumers, they have a different taste from older consumers, and as winemakers, they are more innovative and exploring. Although the annual introduction of new wood is still applied, the percentage has declined significantly.

Most consumers do not buy wine to mature further in the bottle. It must be immediately drinkable. Younger consumers prefer rounder, fruity wines with less tannins. Although they appreciate the effects of wood maturation, they do not like prominent wood flavours. A way to address this trend is using larger barrels, which have the maturation effect without excessive wood. However, this trend considerably impacts the barrel market since larger barrels with a 3 000-litre capacity have a lifetime of up to 20 years compared with a couple of years in the case of 225, 228 or 300-litre barrels.

The usage percentage and characteristics of barrels differ considerably between cellars and can be seen as the stylistic trademark of the cellar that consumers can recognise. Although this segmentation exists in the past, the spectrum is much broader now.

 

The future of oak

The influence of millennial drinkers cannot be ignored. Besides their taste preferences, they are also concerned about the environmental influence of the barrel industry. The cut down of oak trees older than 100 years is unacceptable, causing the use of barrels to be unpopular. The quarantine and biodiversity requirements of barrel imports have changed over recent years, which makes it more expensive. Despite this, as well as the change in the consumers’ preference regarding the intensity of wood character, there is no concern regarding the longevity of the barrel industry. The association of wood with wine is just too traditional and historical to disappear.

 

Wood

Different barrel sizes influence the wood character. (Photo: Gary Baumgarten.)

 

Reference

Riley, M., 2023. Shaping barrel choice. Oak options for fluctuating export markets and consumer tastes. Australian and New Zealand Grapegrower and Winemaker, September: 76 – 81.

 

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