Seguin Moreau's new patented "U-Stave" barrel, developed at its facility in Napa Valley, features an innovative grooving of the stave and head interiors that increases the exposed surface area inside a 60-gallon barrel by one-third. The design makes it possible for the cooper's fire to touch more oak and toast out undesirable flavors.
"We're trying to soften the harshness of American oak," said Seguin Moreau cooper Tom Webber, "not add toast character." American oak often harbors aggressive dill and coconut flavors and typically requires longer toasting than its French counterpart in order to tame its tenacious tendencies. The "U-Stave" demands even longer flame contact -- nearly two hours, versus a normal 45-minute treatment.
This additional labor for toasting, as well as reshaping the barrel staves, has increased the cost of a barrel from $340 to $365 -- still a deal compared to French barrels at about $700 each. The price hike doesn't seem to disturb a number of vintners in California, Oregon and Washington who are encouraged by the new barrel's potential. "We have 200 barrels already ordered in the last two weeks," said Webber, somewhat surprised by the rapid rise of interest.
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