Why do farms use stainless steel tanks instead of the old oak vats?
Before the introduction of stainless steel tanks, comparatively recently, wine was stored in large vats because there was no other way of keeping it. After a couple of years those big vats no longer added much flavour to the wine, but acted simply as storage space. Today oak barrels are carefully selected to add flavour to wines. After the second year of use much of the oak flavour has been leeched out of the wood. At this stage the inner layer of oak can be planed off to uncover a second layer and give the barrel another season of use, but this is labour and time consuming stuff. Those ancient oak vats you saw are there mainly to add atmosphere to your tour and provide a sense of the rich history of the Cape’s winemaking tradition. Next time you visit that winery, take time to examine those old vats. They are works of art worthy of our admiration. Each of those curved staves was shaped by hand in an age without machine tools. And they fit together so perfectly that not a drop of wine can escape, even a century later.