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News & Press

Mar 17, 2023

Oak & Sustainability

At O’Neill, we talk a lot about sus­tain­able grape grow­ing but bar­rel-fer­ment­ed Chardon­nay relies on two crops – grapes and oak – and the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the lat­ter is just as important.

Oak trees are selec­tive­ly har­vest­ed at 80 or old­er – often decades old­er. Choos­ing suit­able trees ensures the cor­rect bal­ance of light and water for those remain­ing. If too lit­tle light pen­e­trates the canopy, the oaks can’t grow tall and straight; if too much enters, oth­er species will out-com­pete the oaks and crowd them.

The har­vest­ed trees are split into staves, which are stacked and sea­soned” out­doors for sev­er­al years before being coop­ered. This painstak­ing­ly slow process requires care­ful man­age­ment; unlike cork trees, which are har­vest­ed for bark every nine to ten years, the oak har­vest cuts down the entire tree. Care­less or exces­sive har­vest­ing would have a harm­ful, decades-long impact.

Like most Cal­i­for­nia winer­ies, we source oak from the Unit­ed States and France. Forests cov­er 25% of France’s sur­face, so for­est man­age­ment is close­ly tied to the country’s over­all envi­ron­men­tal well-being. Many of the trees are Quer­cus petraea and Quer­cus robur, the Euro­pean oak species prized for barrels.


North Amer­i­ca is swim­ming in a diver­si­ty of oak species, but it’s the Amer­i­can white oak, Quer­cus alba, that is used for bar­rels. In recent years, con­cerns have arisen over the sta­bil­i­ty of these white oak forests, which are pri­mar­i­ly in Mis­souri and oth­er east­ern states. Their bar­rels are used not only for wine but also spir­its; new, heav­i­ly charred Amer­i­can bar­rels are a require­ment for bour­bon pro­duc­tion, which has increased dra­mat­i­cal­ly over the last twen­ty years. Lead­ing bour­bon pro­duc­ers have teamed up with cooper­ages and oth­er stake­hold­ers on sus­tain­abil­i­ty pro­grams to pre­serve oak ecosys­tems and ensure sen­si­ble long-term for­est management.

O’Neill’s pri­ma­ry bar­rel sup­pli­er — World Cooper­age — works exclu­sive­ly with sus­tain­ably cer­ti­fied forests and mills; its domes­ti­cal­ly-made Amer­i­can bar­rels are pro­duced to the stan­dards of the high­ly regard­ed Sus­tain­able Forestry Ini­tia­tive. Addi­tion­al­ly, 100% of the tim­ber is used; the por­tion unsuit­ed for bar­rel staves is direct­ed into wine­mak­ing aids such as tank staves and chips, used inter­nal­ly as fuel or sold as oth­er indus­tri­al prod­ucts. There is zero waste per tree.

Sus­tain­ably man­aged oak forests are cru­cial to main­tain­ing the rich style and con­sis­tent­ly high qual­i­ty of Harken Chardon­nay. We’re proud to have part­ners who share our com­mit­ment to bor­row­ing from nature rather than exploit­ing it.

- Kryss Spee­gle MW, Senior Direc­tor of Business-to-Business


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