My Quest for Oak

My Quest for Oak
Oak Cubes photo:
            When I started making wine, I typically made fruit-based wines such as: Concord grape, black raspberry, black berry, apple, pear and any other fruit I could pick wild. One day I decided to oak age a black berry wine I had made. I thought: hey, its red, it can be oaked! I decided on Hungarian oak based on the flavor description on a website. An important thing to note here is I used oak "chips." The result was the wine was over oaked with harsh tannins and an aggressive oak flavor (pour some black berry wine over an oak board and then start gnawing on it.. yeah, that bad.) Actually I still have some of that wine and it is still over oaked!


Fast forward a few years and finally the red hybrids I had planted are finally producing delicious grapes! Time to make an oaked, dry red, but wait oak? Oh boy, here we go again. I was afraid to oak the wine I had worked so hard growing, making etc. Luckily I had found Stavin Oak Cubes (or beans if you prefer.) According to the Stavin website (please visit the site, it's full of great info: The Oak Bean is a high quality fire-toasted solution with minimum 3-year seasoning designed to enhance your wine programs during fermentation, aging or touch-up before bottling.
The source photo:

 At first I was unsure of how much to use. They recommend 2oz of oak cubes per 5 gallons of wine for a minimum of two months; and recommended to taste often. That sounded like a recipe for over oaking so I decided to email the company and see what they had to say. They reported two ounces of oak in five gallons of wine could possibly over - oak the wine. But it all depended on the wine maker’s perception of oak; some like more and some like less (typical wine maker answer ha!) He offered to send a trial pack of the three different oaks they offer in their various toast levels: French, Hungarian, and American. Bench trials can then be performed to decide on the best approach. In each sample pack provided is enough for one bottle of wine. Once the oak is added the, wine is left to sit for a period of time and then it is tasted. You then choose what you like best and scale it up to the rest of the batch. Once I decided on the amount of oak I liked I emailed Stavin once more on how to scale it up.
The oak being seasoned
I ended up adding up to one ounce of oak beans per five gallons of wine. Once added, I waited two weeks before tasting and decided it wasn’t enough and waited another two weeks. At this time I decided to pull the oak as not to over-oak the wine. The flavor after this was excellent with just a hint of oak, success! The oak seemed to punctuate everything good about the wine. But after a year in the bottle the oak is essentially non-existent. The wine is still delicious, but the oak is something left to be desired. Fast forward again to this year, I am now more confident and not afraid to oak my wine. This time I am trying one ounce for two months and 1.5oz for 1-2 months. This time I will taste and wait until the wine is a bit over-oaked and then rack it off the cubes. This way some of the oak flavor will dissipate with age and what will be left should be in the range of what I’m looking for.

This is the One
Stavin Toasting Room photo:
            For the foreseeable future, I plan to stick with Stavin products. They have proven to be an excellent complement to my wine. Once I finally get a barrel and it goes neutral, Stavin will be used to oak the wine while the barrel provides the beneficial micro-ox that a red wine needs.

            I've gained so much confidence in using oak I have started oaking my sparkling pear ciders. I just use American medium toast-plus oak, 1oz per 5 gallons of cider for one month. This gives the cider a slight kiss of oak which is a nice compliment to the cider (which is a dry cider at a final specific gravity of 1.000 with a T.A. of around 0.65 %.) I'm even considering taking the used oak beans from my reds and adding those to a blueberry wine to see what that does. I’m sure the oak cubes still have something to offer after only being in my reds for around 6 weeks. 

Oak cube packaging photo:
Just So You Know: You will see on winemaking forums, people like to soak, boil or rinse their cubes prior to adding to the wine. I on the other hand just dump the cubes right in the carboy (oak dust and all.) I want everything those little cubes have to offer, and it's quite a lot! the oak cubes come in a safe, clean package, no need to soak them in a sulfite solution or boil them or have them blessed by a priest. Just pour them in and taste every two weeks until you you're satisfied with the flavor. Good Luck!

Note: For an in depth look at Stavin and their product, please visit They have solutions for pros and home winemakers alike. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Make It Fizz!

Make It Fizz! By: Jeff Shoemaker  This article originally appeared in the  Jun/Jul 2019 issue of Winemaker Magazine    Making ...