Selecting the perfect barrel(s)


There are two fundamental philosophical outlooks when approaching barrel selection. While some wineries use only one barrel for all their wines (same cooper, forest, age of oak, and percentage of new wood etc.), here at Dutton-Goldfield, we have chosen to select a signature array of barrels for each of our single-vineyard wines that we feel best amplifies what we love about that site and wine. We prefer to learn the respective vineyards, getting to know/love them for their quirks, and then make decisions based on what we love about the sites, honing in as craftspeople as to which characteristic(s) we’d like to enhance. While option two is slightly more complex than option one, it gives us more freedom to pivot and play a bit more.

For the 2016 vintage, we purchased 60 different types of barrels from 10 different coopers. 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 ultimate 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. The better we are at our job as winemakers, the less you notice the barrel. Each year, we make slight adjustments based on the fruit that vintage, and what we’ve learned from previous vintages. Here’s a little taste of what we worked with this year.


Rued Vineyard Chardonnay
Signature Barrels: Seguin Moreau ‘Icone’, Fouquet, Taransaud, Cavin ‘Aphrodite’
We love the natural minerality, tropical notes and solidity of this wine. The tropical notes are beautifully brought out by Seguin Moreau Icone barrels, which give a ginger note that highlights the piña colada element. We find Taransaud works perfectly with Rued’s undercurrent of richness, adding to the wine’s core of minerality and solidity which keeps the brightness of the wine shining. A touch of Fouquet barrels add a caramel/toffee richness that dovetails with the lush tropical character of the wine, completed by a little Cavin Aphrodite to augment the signature florals.


Walker Hill Vineyard Chardonnay
Signature Barrels: Seguin Moreau ‘Icone’, Taransaud
Walker is all about the searing focused citrus character from the Old Wente Clone vines. With its obvious 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 ‘Icone’ barrel is a perfect fit. We vary the barrels a bit for complexity in this wine, but focus on Seguin Moreau for its ginger notes, and Taransaud for the great structure and subtle toffee flavor. Walker is all about the lively, bright fruit, so taking care to stay out of its way is crucial.


Angel Camp Vineyard Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels: Rousseau, Taransaud, Seguin Moreau ‘Icone’
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 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. For the 2016 vintage in particular, we loved the base notes, depth and solidity Taransaud barrels bring, along with the sweet/spicy opulence of Seguin Moreau.


Azaya Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels: Taransaud, Seguin Moreau ‘Icone’
As we have been experimenting with using different types of barrels overall, the Azaya is one property that continues to surprise us. After initial aging in 45% new wood, we blended in the early spring to homogenize the wine and hone our barrel choices. The bright and juicy nature of the 2016 Azaya just loved to soak up the earthy spice of Seguin Moreau Icone barrels, and absorb the sweet toffee of Taransaud barrels, noticing that the second fill seemed to have the greatest impact during final trials.


Deviate Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels:
Taransaud, Seguin Moreau ‘Icone’, Fouquet
Instead of choosing one signature barrel, we spread out to three of our favorite barrels with big personality. The Seguin Moreau Icone barrel brings out the earthy mushroom quality of the wine, the Foquet adds its spicy boldness, and Taransaud chimes in with its beautiful base notes of richness. Much like our other wines from our outlying Sonoma Coast sites, the two-vineyard blend Deviate, is husky, broad, and with an impressive length finish.


Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels: Seguin Moreau ‘Icone', Taransaud
We’ve been working with this vineyard longer than most, and as such, we’ve been able to dial in our barrel choices over the years. This wine is all about the earth, with its hallmark forest floor notes. Of all our wines, this one has the highest use of Seguin Moreau's Elegance barrel for its earth, spice, and mushroom notes that echo the woodsy-ness of the wine while complementing the packed fruit. These barrels bring out the natural earthiness in the 2016 vintage, and Taransaud fills in an underlying richness. We choose Icone as well for the one year-old barrels to play up the mushroom quality of the wine even more. Much like painting, think of Taransaud as a base coat, with Seguin Moreau layered on top for the special finishing brush strokes.


Docker Hill Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels:
Seguin Moreau ‘Icone’, Fouquet
For our newest Pinot Noir, Docker Hill, we had to go on instinct and do quite a bit of experimenting. We did several trials, spreading the wine around a bit between different barrels to see which outcome we liked the best. When we narrowed our focus, the two barrels that seemed to play the best with Docker were Seguin Moreau ‘Icone’ and Fouquet. The great density and voluptuousness of the Docker pairs well with the nutmeg creaminess of Fouquet barrels, as well as the great spice and solidity of Seguin Moreau Icone. This is currently the only Pinot Noir in our portfolio that does not use Tarasaud, as this unique Mendocino fruit had enough natural base and didn’t need any further assistance from the wood.


Emerald Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels: Taransaud, Fouquet, Cavin-Aphrodite, Rousseau
We’ve enjoyed playing around a bit with this vineyard over the past few vintages in an attempt to find our perfect-fit barrel. This is a wine of complexity, and we have found that our Russian River Valley wines (the Green Valley in particular), like a blend of several different types of barrels which amplify the intricacy. 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, while Rousseau chimes in to bump up the natural floral tones. We find the richness from Fouquet tends to be quite impactful, leading to our ultimate decision to use it sparingly, more as a counterpoint in the wine than the central element.


Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels: Rousseau, Taransaud
Taransaud holds down the bass tones, and Rousseau adds structure. We have switched the program recently and are now using Rousseau barrels, finding that even a small percentage adds creaminess to this naturally acidic fruit. We just love the floral aspects from Fox, so we have chosen barrels that highlight the lilac overtones in the wine. Like the other RRV wines, we are loving the resulting wine when we spread the love between multiple types of barrels. When you use 50% new oak from all the same type of barrel, is it much more obvious that switching between different types. We are looking for nuance, over obvious oak influence – always! This is especially true in the feminine character of the Fox Den Pinot Noir. Less is more.


Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels: Cavin-Aphrodite, Taransaud, Fouquet, Rousseau
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 sizable 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 Cavin-Aphrodite to balance the spice. The broad range of oak we select for Freestone plays well with the fruit, aiding and amplifying the complexity.


McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels:
Taransaud, Seguin Moreau
In every other wine, Taransaud is the base note, but in McDougall it’s the signature: Most of the barrels used in the final wine are Taransaud. In fact, the ‘T-5’ barrel we have chosen from Taransaud is the most expensive barrel we purchase for Dutton-Goldfield at 1,600 euros a piece, but we think this special property in Fort Ross is well-worth the investment. These specialty barrels are air-dried in Burgundy for 5 years and then shipped to us. 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. We round out the wine with a little help from a couple Seguin Moreau barrels for the 2016 vintage.


Redwood Ridge Pinot Noir
Signature Barrels:
Seguin Moreau 'Icone' Elegance, Fouquet, Rousseau, Taransaud
Redwood Ridge's Sonoma Coast character is big and burly, so we choose barrels that can stand up to the wine. Seguin Moreau's 'Icone' Elegance amps up the forest floor earthiness of the wine, which is a hallmark of this Pinot. Rousseau imparts its richness and creaminess, while Fouquet adds a little extra buttercream, characters that could overpower other wines, but Redwood just soaks it up. Taransaud again adds to the richness quotient, bringing its depth and breadth to the wine. 


Morelli Lane Vineyard Zinfandel
Signature Barrels: Taransaud, Ermitage, Cadus, Fouquet
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 Ermitage adds its beautiful spice notes. For this wine, we love Taransaud barrels for the structure and Asian spice they impart, and Cadus for their creamy caramel tones.


Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah
Signature Barrels:
Taransaud, Rousseau
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. Syrah loves potent wood, in particular, the Rousseau which aid this naturally big and spicy wine with a nice touch of cream.