Wine is precious. This statement has rung true for humanity since the beverages discovery. Wine played an integral role in ancient religions, rituals, trade and entertainment. For over 8,000 years, civilizations have been innovating new ways to produce, store and transport wine. Yes, the BYOB craze started long ago – at least as far back as 6,000 BC. Before there were stainless steel wine barrels and bulk-sized bottles, there were the kvevri, the amphora and, finally, the oak barrel.
As the Roman empire expanded and conquered, they encountered many new cultures and technologies. The Gauls had been transporting beer in wooden barrels, bound together with metal hoops and a lightbulb went off for the Romans. The Gauls weren’t the first civilization to use barrels to transport wine or beer, in fact, the Romans were well aware that earlier civilizations had been constructing palm barrels for years, but it wasn’t until they encountered the Gauls that they began to adopt the technology themselves.
Before the barrel, Romans favored method of wine transportation was the amphorae. However, as they pushed further north, they found themselves traveling long distances of land rather than water. Trudging amphorae over land was simply impractical. Once the Roman army made the switch to wooden wine barrels, merchants were quick to follow. By the third century AD, the Romans were almost exclusively storing and transporting wine in wooden barrels. Thus ended clay’s 5,500 year dominance in the wine field.
Oak and fir trees were abundant in europe and bended easily, so they were the most practical and economical choice for wine transport. The positive effect oak barrels had on the taste of wine was merely a happy accident, and not one of particular interest to the Roman army who cared more about intoxication than taste. None the less, it brought us one step closer to the increasingly popular stainless steel wine barrels of today.