French cooperage Taransaud, through investment by parent company Chêne & Cie, is transforming the role of the oak barrel from being simply an aging vessel to becoming a source of information and guidance during the barrel aging process. The goal? To use research to better understand and react to the wine’s aging process in oak.
Meet ChênOX, a sensor that is attached to the inside of the barrel’s bung, which is able to measure the dissolved oxygen levels in the barrel without having to open it or remove any of the wine. This can help determine when to perform certain cellar operations, such as topping, racking and sulfiting, as well as inform of any issues on a microbiological level in real-time.
The ChênOX chip receives information on dissolved oxygen levels and cellar operations, communicating this straight to a registered mobile device. Via wifi, this can then be transferred to a secure web platform where the information can be tracked visually via graphs. Based on this live feedback, winemakers can make real-time, informed decisions on how to intervene in the aging process.
This is part of a bigger research project that Chêne & Cie began in 2017 in collaboration with the CentraleSupelec institute. The goal of this work is:
“To gain a greater understanding of liquid and oxygen transfer processes through wood when wine is aged in barrels, together with interactions with environmental parameters in wine cellars and the physical and chemical parameters of liquids contained in the barrels.”
An initial trial was conducted at Bordeaux’s Chateau Phélan Ségur, where sensors were used to measure not only dissolved oxygen, but also carbon dioxide, weight, temperature, humidity and the pressure both inside and outside of the barrel. This was the first time that the impact of environmental conditions on a wine’s aging in barrel were recognised.
The results demonstrated that humidity has an inverse relationship with internal barrel pressure, which thus increases the level of oxygen in the barrel. Essentially, the greater the humidity in a wine cellar, the lower the pressure in the barrels, which leads to the creation of air pockets and, ultimately, higher oxygen levels in the barrel. So, while a higher humidity environment will prevent evaporation, it simultaneously increases the aging wine’s exposure to oxygen.
Further trials are being conducted and Chêne & Cie continues to invest heavily in research and development around these learnings and related analytics. The ChênOX sensor is without a doubt only the beginning of smart barrel technology to come.