Rural Missouri - February 2011 - (Page 26)
World wide wood
Cuba Cooperage is known internationally for its wine and bourbon barrels made of Missouri white oak
by Paul Hagey and Kyle Spradley firstname.lastname@example.org Chris Ousley rolls a ﬁnished bourbon barrel at McGinnis Wood Products in Cuba, Mo. The well-known company turns out more than 500 wine and whiskey barrels every day. Smaller stave mills once dotted the state, but McGinnis mainly uses white oak for the barrel many have disappeared. In 1946, there were 85 stave pieces or staves, which makes for a good container mills in Missouri, but today, McGinnis Wood Prodto age wine or spirits because of its strength, ability ucts is one of only ﬁve. to form a liquid-tight seal and its complex, ﬂavorful Each day, truckload after truckload of harvested chemistry. logs from across the Midwest are dropped off at Missouri is blessed with an abundance of white McGinnis Wood Products. The wood is then cut into oak. It grows in nearly every county and is one of long, narrow strips. Based on the wood’s quality, the dominant trees in the state’s charthe cut pieces will either be placed in the open acteristic oak-hickory forests. This has ﬁelds of the 56-acre facility to air dry for wine led to Missouri becoming one of the staves or be kiln-dried for bourbon staves. top three stave-producing regions in the “The higher-quality wood we will keep world. for wine staves that will dry in the natuThe white oak’s slow-growing lifestyle Cuba • ral elements for around 36 months,” allows the wood to have more dense says Jack McGinnis, oldest son of Legrowth rings for a porous pulp, which roy and manager at McGinnis Wood facilitates a more thorough, subtle release Products. “The staves for our bourbon of its ﬂavors. The wood’s vanillin, tannins barrels are placed in one of our eight kilns, dried and and various aromatic compounds infuse fermentready for production in about 60 days.” ing grapes with ﬂavors that give the wine a range of The stacks of wood at different ages exhibit tastes from butterscotch to maple syrup. gradations of color — from fresh-cut gold to yearResearchers from the Scotch Whiskey Research old bronze to three-year-old silver-black. Each set of Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, have done tests on wine staves is painstakingly monitored as the heat McGinnis’ staves and have found that the white oak and cold, sun, snow and wind leach out the harsher within a 50-mile radius of Cuba was among the best chemicals and intensify the more favorable ones. stave wood in the world for aging wine. hen Leroy McGinnis ﬁrst entered the barrel-making business, he didn’t even know what a white oak tree was. The 81-year-old laughs now as he recalls his relationship with one of Missouri’s unrecognized legacies. “Little did I know that the trees we have here in our state our famous,” he says. Ironically, it is the rugged Ozark landscape surrounding McGinnis Wood Products in Cuba, Mo., that holds the key to Leroy’s well-known company. The rocky terrain of southern Missouri makes it nearly impossible for row crops to grow, but the poor, thin soils are perfect conditions for slow-growing white oaks to produce some of the best wood for barrels in the world. Leroy started in the barrel-making industry in 1956 and is one of its luminaries. In 1968, he founded McGinnis Wood Products and today is a top supplier of bourbon barrels to several distilleries. The company also is one of four wine stave producers in the state.
Stacks of wine stave wood wait to be packaged for shipping to other barrel makers across the world. Missouri’s white oak is known to be the best in the world for wine aging because of the wood’s density and complex, ﬂavorful chemistry.
A barrel starts to take shape as Jake Breese inserts wooden staves like puzzle pieces to ﬁt together perfectly. The barrel then is placed in a steamer that softens the wood and allows the staves to be pulled into shape without breaking.
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