Three years ago upon returning from France, we wanted to ferment our reds in wood. In France, we used concrete, stainless steel and wood – wood was the best. We liked it becuase it is natural, moderates temperature changes and breathes.
After much discussion, we decided to try fermenting in barrels. Fetzer’s inhouse cooper said it was easy and so I tried. We really liked the results. In 2004, we also experimented with plastic on a single lot but didn’t like, The temperature moved more quickly and we were concerned about flavors/chemicals being released from the softner agents in the plastic. (USA Today has an interesting article about the ongoing debate.)
With 2005, we only used wood and moved up to 500 liter puncheons with great results.
While we were clearly not the first but the trend is catching on. We have heard of several Pinot Noir producers who are now fermenting in barrels. Next week we will see a company that has invented a way to ferment in the barrel without popping the top. It should be interesting.