Good Vibrations: Washington Winery Tries Barrel Aging Under Passing Trains

An urban winery in Spokane has found surprising benefits to its Cabernet getting run over by thousands of trains

Good Vibrations: Washington Winery Tries Barrel Aging Under Passing Trains
A BNSF Railway freight train. The line runs through Spokane and over 500 barrels of wine (that we know of). (Instagram / @BNSFRailway)
Apr 14, 2020

What is the effect of vibration on wine? It’s a vinous question without a clear or agreed-upon answer. It might not be ideal to cellar your bottles under, say, a trampoline test lab, but it’s possible that some reds could benefit from a little rumbling during the winemaking process. Barrister Winery in Spokane, Wash., went all-in on the idea, barrel aging its wines under a vigorously trafficked stretch of railroad.

Barrister co-founders Greg Lipsker and Michael White were a couple of legal eagles (the name is a wink to that) who accidentally became garagistes when they bought a 5-gallon home winemaking kit during a road-trip pit stop at what they had thought was a wine shop (it was a wine-supply shop). They went pro in 2001 and later moved their operations into a 26,000-square-foot warehouse built in 1908 next to the railroad. They decided to put the barrels for red-wine aging in a space right under the trestle.

Barrel room at Barrister winery
Where things start to get shaky: the Barrister barrel room (Courtesy of Barrister Winery)

“Every time a train goes over, our barrels are gently shaken," Lipsker told Unfiltered. “We get 25,000 trains a year overhead here. By the time we release a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Cabernet Franc, it’s been gently shaken, not stirred, about 70,000 times."

Per Lipsker, these gentle vibrations are a helpful influence on Barrister’s winemaking. To remove sediment from their reds, sourced from 10 vineyards around the state, the team only need to rack their wines once while their peers rack three times, because the vibration "really helps settle out the solids in our wine," said Lipsker. "We had no idea when we moved in."

There’s even a possibility that the quality of wines themselves is positively affected by the commotion above. “We read a study that concluded that gentle vibration over time will actually soften the mouthfeel of the wine,” Lipsker said, which is in line with the style Barrister goes for. But the science, much like Barrister's Cabernet, remains unsettled.


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