More fun than a barrel of monkeys

Kelvin Cooperage, Louisville, KY - wine barrels

Have you ever heard the term cooperage? It’s the art of making wine barrels — and believe it or not, oak barrels are still made by hand. My mom and I had the unique opportunity to see this craftsmanship in action last week. We were in Nashville visiting my sister when my brother called. “Sure, we’ll stop off in Louisville, Ky., to pick up a few barrels for you.”

Little did we know there would be a tour and a bit of a history lesson!

Kelvin Cooperage was founded in 1963 along the banks of the River Kelvin in Glasgow by Ed McLaughlin. The business grew to serve major distilleries in Scotland, Ireland and around the world.

In 1991, Kelvin Cooperage relocated to Louisville, Ky. The city’s proximity to bourbon country and a supply of the finest American oak made it the perfect spot for wine barrel production. Kelvin now supplies barrels to leading wineries throughout the United States and Australia.

They have A LOT of barrels.

Wine barrels, whiskey barrels

But we weren’t interested in the 100,000 or so barrels Paul McLaughlin told me are stacked outside. We were seeking something in particular … something for my brother’s masterful process at Twigg Winery

American Oak Wine Barrel

made in America, handcrafted in America, toasted in America … and filled with the luscious juices of grapes grown, crushed and fermented in Carroll County, Ohio by a guy who grew up on a fruit farm, married his high school sweetheart and now has four kids and a family farming operation.

I happen to think the whole situation is really, really cool … admittedly, that’s because vintner, Brent Baker, happens to be my younger brother. And I guarantee he’ll sell you a fascinating story to go along with every bottle of wine!

Wine barrels

After we backed up to the dock and some nice guys loaded our barrels, we were invited inside to see the coopering process. To get barrels like those above, they begin with a pile of fine, oak boards.

This machine planes the wood and puts the slight slope in the board so barrels can be built.

And after the barrel is formed, the staves must be applied to hold it all together.

Barrel staves

What happens next was a beautiful thing to see …

Toasting barrels

They toast the barrels — or as one of Kelvin’s marketing pieces states: “Before it’s home to a fine wine, we like to give it a little house-warming.” Love it! The barrels are doused with water while the flames toast the inside.

It’s in the very nooks and crannies of the barrel that the character of a wine fully develops. So be particular about where your wine resides. The barrels your wine goes into are as important as the grapes that go into your wine.

Kelvin Cooperage, Louisville, KY - wine barrels

It was easy to see these guys have perfected a process and believe in the quality of their craftsmanship.

wine barrels

It was so very interesting to watch and listen and see this process.

And some day in the not so distant future, I’ll traipse up to Twigg Winery to sample the goods, so to speak. Incidentally, we also picked up a used whiskey barrel.

Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel

This one will house Twigg’s latest batch of hard cider. And here’s a little-known fact: each used barrel contains a bit of the whiskey. It keeps the inside of the barrel sterile. Thanks to charring from the toasting process, the remaining whiskey also happens to be black as coal and a bit … thick.

I can tell you a nip of the stuff will temporarily stain your teeth … but it tastes amazing.
Though you may need a toothpick.

Go exploring! You may enjoy these previous posts.


  • comment-avatar
    Julie October 9, 2012 (9:28 am)

    So very interesting! I love unexpected cool experiences.

    • comment-avatar
      Farmgirl October 9, 2012 (11:08 am)

      Yes, they’re the best! 🙂

  • comment-avatar
    David White October 9, 2012 (11:03 am)

    Huber Winery has a vintage called Pop’s Reserve that is finished in old whiskey barrels. It is released for sale to the public a week before Thanksgiving and is typically sold out before Christmas. It is one of our favorite wines. They will be releasing it on Nov. 15th with a chili supper at the winery. Might be worth a road trip? Huber Winery is located near Borden IN, just a few miles across the river from Louisville KY.

    • comment-avatar
      Farmgirl October 9, 2012 (11:08 am)

      Sounds like a great little trip, David–thanks!