Selecting the perfect barrel



While some wineries use only one barrel for all their wines (same cooper, forest, age of oak, and percentage of new wood), here at Dutton-Goldfield, we choose a signature array of barrels for each of our single-vineyard wines that we feel brings out what we love about that site and wine.

In 2015, DG purchased barrels from nine different coopers, seven of which have been long-time partners for our wines (we always like to try out new barrels when we get a chance). Within each cooper there’s an array of forests and grain tightness that further differentiate the barrels. With all this diversity, our highest priority is the consistency of barrels from each producer, so we know what characteristics that barrel will provide year after year. We love playing with these different nuances to accentuate each wine each vintage. Of course, the fruit is the primary, lead player, while the barrels are the supporting cast, with our goal being they all work together seamlessly with none being noticed as a separate piece. The barrels we choose are ones that integrate with wine and not fight against it. Each year, we make slight adjustments based on the fruit that vintage, and what we’ve learned from previous vintages as we get to know each vineyard’s fruit better. Here’s a little taste of what we worked with this year.

While each vineyard has its signature array, we love Taransaud barrels, which provide a richness and slight nuttiness without a major discernible wood character. We use these nearly exclusively in wines that age more than a year in barrel, as the wood integrates beautifully over that time. As we like to say, every wine gets a bit of Taransaud.

Rued Vineyard Chardonnay – We love the minerality, tropical notes and solidity of this wine. The tropical notes are beautifully brought out by Seguin Moreau white Icone barrels, which give a ginger note that highlights the piña colada element. It’s unusual to use Taransaud for whites, as it’s considered a pinot barrel, but we find it works perfectly with Rued’s undercurrent of richness, and the wine’s core of minerality and solidity keeps the wine showing bright. A touch of Fouquet barrels add a caramel/toffee richness that dovetails with the lush tropical character of the wine.

Walker Hill Vineyard Chardonnay – Walker is all about the searing focused citrus character from the Wente clone vines. With its amped up tangerine and bright acidity, we choose barrels that bring a little spice to the party, without overtaking the wine’s central brightness, and some creamy notes to round out the wine. We find the Seguin Moreau Premium barrel, which has a lighter spice character than their Icone, is a perfect fit. Then we fill it out with some Hermitage and a little Cadus, which also offer some pretty baking spice notes. And, of course, a little Taransaud as mentioned above, just because we can.

Angel Camp Vineyard Pinot Noir – Our Anderson Valley pinot has beautiful creaminess and singularity, with rich plummy fruit and a big, round mouthfeel. To accentuate this, we choose barrels that are also creamy and rich. Seguin Moreau’s red Icone barrel is mushroomy and earthy, so brings up that duskiness in the wine. Rousseau and Taransaud add creaminess, and Rousseau also brings sandalwood spice and structure to the wine.

Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir – We’ve been working with this vineyard longer than most, so have dialed in our barrel choices over the years. This wine is all about the earth, with its hallmark of forest floor notes. Of all our wines, this one has the highest of one barrel over all others: the Seguin Moreau Icone for its earth, spice, and mushroom notes that echo the woodsy-ness of the wine while complementing the packed fruit. Because the tiny berries make such a dense wine, it can handle this barrel that may be too heavy for other wines. To add a big of spiciness, we include a little Hermitage.

Emerald Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir – The pristine and rich berry fruit in this wine, along with the touch of spice notes, makes us think of a summer pie, so we choose barrels that emphasize this decadent baked treat character. Taransaud leads the way with its added weight and richness, Hermitage barrels bring spice (think blueberry cobbler), while Fouquet chimes in with a little extra sweetness.

Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir – The exotic spice element that marks the wine is highlighted in our barrel choices. It’s the only red wine we produce that has a large percentage of Fouquet, because the inherent tannins from these thick skinned berries can absorb the uber-creaminess of the barrel without it showing. The balance of our barrel choices are the go-to Taransaud, plus a little Seguin Moreau Icone for its peat-like earthiness, and a touch of Hermitage to amp up the spice notes in the vineyard even more.

Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir – We just love the floral aspects of the wine, so choose barrels that highlight the lilac overtones in the wine. Our Remond and Rousseau barrels are both produced with wood from the Trancais forest, which is very tight grained, so is only used in wines that will be in their barrels for over a year, giving the high phenolics time to integrate. These barrels are also very solid in the middle, just like the wine. The Rousseau’s sandalwood adds its nice sandalwood element, and a little Taransaud fills in the rest.

McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir – In every other wine, Taransaud is the base note, but in McDougall it’s the signature: 80% of the barrels used in the final wine are Taransaud. The barrel brings richness to the middle without overtaking the wine, letting the bright red fruit shine. It accentuates the trademark structure and solidity of the wine from the rugged Sonoma Coast, and just brings it all together so nicely. A couple of Hermitage barrels join in for a touch of extra spice.

Morelli Lane Vineyard Zinfandel – While many wineries use American oak for Zinfandel, at Dutton-Goldfield we want to highlight the berry fruit in the wine. Delicately handled French oak pinot barrels allow us to do this for our old vine Zin. Fouquet barrels turn this raspberry character into raspberry vanilla ice cream, while the Taransaud sweetens up the middle, and Hermitage adds its beautiful spice notes.

Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah – Our cool climate Syrah’s heart is white pepper and boysenberry fruit, so we again choose all French oak in aging this wine. This big fruit soaks up wood easily without it taking away from its central fruit and bright acidity, allowing it to fill out the wine seamlessly. Even more impactful barrels can be used in Syrah without them showing, adding creaminess to the nose and rounding out the wine while staying in the background. This wine gets an assortment of all our favorite pinot barrels, which come together to bring up the richness in the wine.