Fence Stile procured three whiskey barrels from J. Rieger & Co. before Thanksgiving 2017 and filled them with Norton wine for aging. The barrels are stored in Fence Stile's one-of-a-kind wine cave (which may be viewed on a guided tour).
J. Rieger & Co. was originally established in 1887 by Jacob Rieger in Kansas City's West Bottoms. Andy Rieger, Jacob Rieger’s great-great-great grandson, and Ryan Maybee re-opened the distillery in 2014 . In short order, the distillery has earned acclaim for its whiskey, gin, vodka, and other spirits.
Seeking to expand its barrel-aging program, Fence Stile leaped at the opportunity to work with this historic distillery and obtain barrels used for aging spirits. The barrels were originally owned by Heaven Hill, a Kentucky distillery, for aging their bourbon and then by MGPI for corn whiskey before J. Rieger bought them. The barrels had the first whiskey in them for four years at Heaven Hill and at the latter distillery for 10 years. J. Rieger aged corn whiskey in the barrels next and emptied them in late November 2017.
Char from the barrels, made from white American oak per federal law, the oak itself, and the prior spirits will impart flavor and aroma to the Norton wine. Typically, whiskey barrels often impart notes of vanilla and caramel to its contents. It's tempting to lean in, breathe deep, catch aromas from the barrel exterior, and imagine what the results will be.
At this stage, it remains to be seen how the Norton will interact with the barrel and what qualities it will absorb in its character. Each barrel is unique with its own characteristics. Depending on the results of aging, wine from each barrel may be blended in a specific ratio to produce the most desirable results. Careful monitoring, tasting and testing over time will help determine how the wine evolves and when it will be ready for bottling and release.
Creative director Pete Dulin documents wine, food and operations at Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery through writing and photography.