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Oak Conference to Explore Stylistic and Practical Decisions

March 2017
by Andrew Adams

Santa Rosa, Calif.—Making full use of a larger venue, the third annual Wines & Vines Oak Conference will feature content and technical tastings exploring the world of oak and other elements of winemaking.
Taking place April 26 at the new Saralee & Richard’s Barn event center and the adjacent Finley Hall at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, the conference will begin with an overview of recent research about the variation in sensory compounds and tannin among oak trees as well as how to best prevent and control Brettanomyces in barrels.

Later sessions will cover both stylistic and practical decisions winemakers need to make while working with oak as well as recent innovations in cellar management and winemaking products.

More and more winemakers are experimenting with performing red wine fermentations in standard-size barrels, and this technique will be the focus of a panel discussion and comparative tasting. The method can be done either by removing barrel heads and using the barrels like small open-top fermentors or by putting the barrel heads back on after filling with must and breaking up the cap by rolling the barrels on specialty racks.

Both techniques and other barrel-fermentation methods will be discussed in detail by an experienced panel of winemakers from large and small wineries. Bob Blue of Fetzer Vineyards, Andrew Schweiger of Schweiger Vineyards and David Jeffrey of Calluna Vineyards are among the speakers.

The barrel-fermentation session will include a tasting of wines that fermented in barrel and similar wines fermented in stainless steel tanks.

The nitty, gritty and dirty work of barrels will be the subject of an afternoon session in which experts will discuss how best to wash, sanitize and manage barrels.

In 2016, Franciscan Estate Winery won Constellation Brands’ internal sustainability award in part for conserving water in all of its operations, including an 80% decrease in the amount of water used for tank sanitation. Cellar supervisor Lee Rigss will discuss how the winery accomplished those reductions as well as how he manages the Napa Valley winery’s barrel program.

Other sessions at the conference include a deep dive into choosing the right oak for a particular winemaking style, using oak with premium Pinot Noir grapes, a session about the latest winemaking products for phenolic management and a technical tasting of barrel-alternative products.

Registration for the conference is now open. For more details and to register, visit

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