A funny thing happens to all winemakers when they see their first wines go from fermentation bin into barrel. I'm sure of it. Seeing the product that you have cultivated from a simple cluster of berries - or, further back, a mere shoot on a vine in late winter - turn into a living piece of art, it is truly moving. Perhaps like giving birth (although that is really more the feeling one gets when finally moving the wine from barrel to bottle); or perhaps jumping off the high dive for the first time. The volatile period of primary fermentation is over. Your baby now moves into the more permanent home for the remaining months of aging, malo-lactic fermentation, and into the period where the flavors of the wine embark on a roller-coaster of a ride, until (you hope) they culminate into a glorious symphony of flavor and texture that captures the essence of the year, the beauty of the fruit, and the personality of the winemaker. That's the percice moment that you want to capture the wine and put it in it's bottle. But, first, it has to find comfort in it's new home - the barrel.
(For more pictures of the barreling down process, follow the link below.)
Now, I could go on here about the various tonneliers that produce barrels from oak found in forests from France to Slovenia to Pennsylvania. How each barrel has a distinct toasting level, and how winemakers regard the barrels as the "spice rack" of the cellar. But suffice it to say, where you choose to make a home for your wine is very, very important. When I barreled down my 2008 wines this year, I felt a very anxious void fill my stomach. No longer able to be caressed with my hands (and punchdown tool) 2 or 3 times a day, it was all going to be consolidated in a few 60-gallon wood barriques. Hidden away. Aromas and flavors only exposed by the glass thief, stealing little sips out of the small round hole at the top of the barrel. It was perhaps like sending your little 8 year old off to boarding school in the Alps - knowing that where little Timmy was headed was indeed going to make a very refined gentleman out of him, but aching to see him grow before your very eyes.
Luckily, that little round porthole allows us to check in on a regular basis, just to make sure it's on the right path, growing into a very prolific artistic expression of soil, vintage, and character. So far, boarding school is treating the Abaluche 2008 vintage very well...