As a believer in tradition, I am somewhat enchanted with what oak barrels provide to the craft of winemaking. The micro climate in every barrel is as different and varying as the grain patterns of the wood they are constructed of. They offer winemakers many stylistic options through various toast levels, and the enhancement of wine through micro oxygenation is well documented. It just seems like the correct way to store wine. People react when they see a barrel of wine, mostly with a smile or some enthusiasm. Some effort and expense is required to gain these advantages. Topping up, is required maintenance and surrenders as much as two bottles a month per barrel. Cleaning is time consuming and requires a good deal of water. Sanitizing requires the use of sulfur gas, or a sulfur stick. Bottling is required at some point and requires additional time and expense.
As the spirit industry continues to boom for high end distilleries offering premium products with extended aging, the seasoned oak industry is struggling to keep up with the growth of expanded barrel houses. This demand coupled with the overall growth of the wine industry as a whole in the US, has placed serious stress on the available supply of properly seasoned oak for cooperage. The barrel market overall is up more than 25%.
In the commercial wine industry the value added proposition of stainless steel is well understood. Easy to clean, reusable for a lifetime with proper care, very low maintenance, and able to accept many variations of oak alternatives, stainless proves itself investment worthy. With the variable capacity tanks, an additional value provided to the home winemaker is the savings in bottling cost. The home winemaker simply can "fill the jug", adjust the lid, and come back again. If making a gift or presenting someone with a bottle as a consideration, the same process applies. In just two years, a person making a barrel of wine would save enough money in bottling to just easily pay for a 52 gallon stainless tank. No doubt, this would save money.
I guess the traditional thing wins out with me, I like a barrel....but as college tuition looms, and the demand for high quality fruit from California's North Coast continues to advance market costs, perhaps the sound economic principle of stainless may prevail!
Either way, I get to enjoy the result.