Did you know that winemakers can use very large tanks made from oak to store their wine instead of stainless tanks? Each has advantages as well as drawbacks.
Modern winemakers generally only use small oak barrels for aging the wine and imparting oak flavours into the wine. Old world wine makers actually use large oak tanks for storage of all of their wines. A typical oak barrel for aging is between 225L to 500L. The old world wooden tanks could be 10s of thousands of litres. Modern winemakers can use these large oak tanks but there are a lot of disadvantages.
The stainless steel advantage –
- Durability – stainless steel wine tanks are durable and will last a life time. Oak tanks, can also last for a very long time but they are not as durable.
- Cost – Steel offers an economic advantage because it can be cost effectively manufactured. Oak tanks can be 10x the cost of a stainless steel tank. We are sure that 100 years ago it would have been the other way around with wood being cheaper than steel.
- Purity – Stainless steel tanks won’t impart flavour or oxygen into wine. This helps the wine retain its structure and fruit flavour. With oak tanks, the wood is semi porous to air – it can be challenging to control a developing wine’s exposure to air which can alter wine flavours dramatically.
- Cleaning – stainless steel tanks are easier to clean than oak tanks. Cleaning them is fast as they have a smooth internal surface. The inside of oak barrels tend to get scratched, wine seeps into the scratches and remains after the wine is removed which can then influence the flavour and quality of the next wine to be stored in that tank. Using steel tanks also allows unwooded wines to be made as there are no ‘woodnotes’ present – the finish tends to be crisp, fresh and light and the wine becomes more fruit forward.
For these reasons you see a lot of stainless steel tanks in wineries and rarely do you see big oak tanks.