What do winemakers mean by first, second and third "fill"?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What do winemakers mean by first, second and third "fill"?

—Nambitha, Cape Town, South Africa

Dear Nambitha,

I’ve heard these terms used in reference to wine barrels. When you have a brand new barrel and fill it with wine, that’s the “first fill,” second time is the “second fill” and so on. So when you hear winemakers talk about a wine being barrel aged in "new oak," that would be the first fill.

Why is this important? The intensity of a barrel’s impact depends on how new it is. A barrel’s first fill will impart the most intense spice, cedar, tobacco, caramel or vanilla notes. Each subsequent fill will be less potently affected. A barrel that has been used a few times is typically considered a “neutral” barrel.

—Dr. Vinny

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