French Oak is considered especially desirable wood for making wine barrels for many years. Most French Oak comes from one or more of the famous forests that were planted in the days of Napoléon for shipbuilding. Since the days of oak sailing ships have come and gone, these French forests have become ongoing forestry operations.
There are 5 primary forests used for wine barrel production: Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Trancais and Vosges. Each of these forests produces wood with distinctive characteristics involving tightness of the wood grain as well as the amount of oak flavours that are imparted into the wine. Tight grained wood tends to impart the oak characteristics (vanilla, spice, nut and butter flavours) much more slowly than wood with looser grain.


Winemakers are able to select and order the type of wood for their wine barrels from the different forests for the effect on their finished wine.
The two most significant differences in wood preparation and barrel construction techniques are the seasoning of the wood and the way the staves are prepared. The French Coopers (barrel maker) always let the wood air-dry for at least 24 months to attain proper seasoning. American wine barrel makers use a kiln-dry method to season the wood and the staves for the barrels are also sawn rather than split. The French wine barrel makers split the wood along the grain of the oak to make the staves. Splitting rather than sawing produces staves that have more subtle effects during wine maturation.
During the construction of the barrel, the partially assembled barrel is placed over a small fire-brazier to toast the inside. Winemakers can normally order their barrels with a: Light Toast, Medium, Medium + Toast or Heavy Toast, depending upon the grape varietal(s) to be placed inside the barrel as well as the style of wine to be crafted.
Several winemaking regions have a traditional barrel shape: e.g. Bordeaux vs. Burgundy wine barrels. There are also many sizes of wine barrels as well as variations in the thickness of the staves and the way the barrels are constructed and finished.