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Barrel Musings from Damian Grindley, Brecon Estate’s Winemaker/Owner

Damian Grindley - Brecon Estate | Paso Robles Wineries

Customers visiting Brecon Estate often asked Damian about his philosophy behind Barrel sourcing and after some serious contemplation on his part, here’s the Top 5 musings we extracted from him:

1) Never Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

Oak being a natural product varies from year to year. Even the best cooperage in France will have an off year or batch due to the vagaries of the weather in their particular microclimate. (We believe he learned this the hard way, luckily on someone else’s expense report).

Brecon Estate

Fortunately barrels are very carefully made. Cooperages put a lot of effort into making sure that quality is consistently high, but being a natural product they  are subject to variation. At worst they can be a little more neutral,overly tannic, or perhaps a little greener and sappier than expected. If you had purchased just a single type of barrel and they all  turned out to be slightly below par then you would be compromising the end product. If you had a mix of barrels then one or two overly tannic barrels would be lost in the mix and perhaps just add complexity. Good winemakers taste their barrels regularly. They would Identify an under performing vessel and could swap it out for another barrel fairly early on.

2) Push the Cooperages

Don’t just buy barrels available in the USA and call it a day. Visit the cooperage (think free trip to France) and get inside their heads to find out what’s new or special in their world. See if they will pop a few of those extra fancy barrels that only go to a certain Chateau in Bordeaux (who shall be nameless) in your shipping container.

3) Think different

Just because “Winemaker A” or “Reviewer P” like a particular type of oak does not mean you have to follow suit. Knowing this may be a good starting point, but it won’t make your wines stand out in a crowd already saturated with that particular oak.

Brecon Estate
Damian Grindley of Brecon Estate

4) House style

It’s all too easy to create a house style with the same type of oak for all of your programs. But if you want your wines to be unique, buy barrels that best suit individual varietals and use oak as a framework to complement, not dominate the fruit.

5) “Percentage new oak?”

This is the public’s biggest misnomer and the most commonly asked question in our tasting room (second only to “What type of dog is Brecons big white fluffy pooch named Millie?” She’s a Great Pyrenees). Brecon’s wines may start out with 30, 40, 50 and even 60% new oak but in time this will change. At each racking or blending, the oak mix is reviewed and adjusted accordingly. For example, what might start out as a wine with 33% new oak could end up with 40%.

The following are some of the Cooperages used by Brecon: AP John (Adelaide Australia), Tonnellerie Tremeaux (Burgundy France <1000 bbls per annum) and Tonnellerie Meyrieux (Beaune France).

Brecon Estate opened their doors 20 months ago and has amassed over 39 Golds/Double Golds and Platinum medals. These stellar reviews are no surprise from Welsh Winemaker Damian Grindley, who as a long track record of producing international, award-winning wines.

For more information about Brecon Estate, visit or find them on facebook.

Brecon Estate is located at 7450 Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles and is open daily from 11am to 5pm.

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