Enological Characteristics of White Oak in the United States

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 1-1-2006


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name



Chemistry and Biochemistry


Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Committee Chair

Bruce D. Beaver

Committee Member

H. M. Skip Kingston

Committee Member

Jeffrey D. Evanseck

Committee Member

Sharon Sowa


oak lactone, trees, Whiskey Lactone


The United States is blest with a large amount of white oak, which can be used for wine barrels. In this study, many different aspects of white oak and how it relates to wine have been explored. In our work, we have completed the first national survey of enologically important aroma precursors (oak lactones, vanillin and eugenol) in white oak. We studied 21 Pennsylvania white oaks, and 5 white oaks from each of the following states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi. After measuring the cis and trans oak lactone levels for each tree as well as the eugenol and vanillin concentrations for 41 of the 51 samples, we were able to break these trees into concentration specific regions. Three different regions exist with respect to cis oak lactone. These regions in decreasing cis oak lactone levels are: the Gulf Coast, Midwest and Pennsylvania. It is likely that oak of each region has its own unique aroma that may significantly affect barrel aged wines. Our survey results were compared to the most extensive survey of French oak, done by Masson, and it was found that Pennsylvania oak cis-oak lactone levels are very similar to the levels found in French Oak. Thus, it appears that Pennsylvania oak is an untapped market that may affect wine similarly as French oak does. A correlation between the tree's latitude and its oak lactone concentration was also derived from this study. As the tree's latitude decreases, the total amount of cis oak lactone in the tree increases. Another aspect of this work suggests that in Pennsylvania, elevation plays a role in the tree's total ellagitannin concentration. A trend was found that shows trees with higher elevations have a lower ellagitannin concentration.





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