It is a common misconception that stainless steel wine barrels are new on the winemaking scene. Yes, they look sexy and futuristic, but stainless steel tanks have been advocated for by winemakers since the early 60’s and stainless steel barrels were not a far jump for winemakers. Understandably, the tradition of oak cooping had quite the head start on stainless steel, but stainless steels value in winemaking wasn’t born yesterday.
In the mid-20th century, stainless steel had already made its mark in the dairy industry. French oenologist and “forefather of modern oenology”, Emile Peynaud took note and hypothesized the material’s potential value in winemaking to whoever would listen. Well, Bordeaux producer Chateau Haut Brion listened and became one of the first to install stainless steel tanks in his wineries. The benefits of fermenting in stainless steel soon became obvious and wineries around the world started following Brion’s lead.
The initial benefit in this age of winemaking was the efficiency of stainless steel containers when it comes to controlling fermentation temperature. Heat is a byproduct of the fermentation process but heat also can disrupt the fermentation process if it is not controlled. The outer cooling chambers of stainless steel containers allowed winemakers to maintain the desired temperature for their particular fermentation process – slightly warmer for bold reds, cooler for delicate whites.
Winemakers also discovered they could more easily prevent oxidization and attach other winemaking tools to steer and sculpt the batches into the desired product, add ingredients without exposing the contents to too much air and experiment with different varietals and fermentation processes. Additionally, wine is constantly being racked from tank to tank, stainless steel containers simplify this process without risking alteration to the flavors of the wine.
Whether being used for fermentation or storage, stainless steel is completely neutral in the winemaking process. Unlike oak barrels. Stainless steel containers, such as Skolnik’s stainless steel wine barrels, are a blank slate for winemakers and have been for decades.