You might miss East Coast Woodbarrels, located in a gritty industrial district in Woodbury, were it not for one rather large tell outside its workshop —the enormous aging trunk of an oak tree lying in the sun.
George Voicu, the business’ owner and one of its coopers, first learned to make wine barrels from his grandfather at his family’s Romanian vineyard in the 1960s. It’s a craft he maintained as a hobby on and off after he immigrated to the U.S., landing in Kew Gardens, Queens in 1986.
Following a recent trip to his homeland, Voicu — an electrical engineer by trade — claims he saw Romanian saw mills exporting their wood to France where it was later sold as “French Oak.” He knew he could introduce barrels made from that same high-quality wood to winemakers in the U.S.
Realizing the demand for a domestic product, he resumed the craft and started East Coast Wood Barrels last year with his son-in-law, Mike Georgacopoulos.
The pair claims the difference between their barrels and those from France, which supplies much of the world’s wine barrels, is negligible. And East Coast barrels cost about two-thirds the price of their French counterparts.
“A French oak barrel is going to cost [a winery] well over $1,000,” Georgacopoulos said. “Our wood was tested in a lab in France. It’s almost identical to French oak.”
Voicu claims his is the only cooperage on the East Coast to make wine barrels and one of the few to make whiskey barrels. Adirondack Barrel Cooperage in Remsen, N.Y. also makes American oak barrels for whiskey.
East Coast Wood Barrels offers custom wood toasting levels, barrel re-coopering services and grooved barrels that have more interior surface area.
The company, which right now employs just four coopers, can generate 2,000 barrels a year.
Though it is young, it has customers across the United States, said Georgacopoulos, who is also learning the trade.
“Our whole philosophy is that it’s a quality barrel,” Georgacopoulos said. “There’s an eye on it every step of the way.”
And a better barrel means better wine, said Voicu, who does not bother to hide his disdain for vino aged in stainless steel or plastic containers.
“It’s not wine,” Voicu said of a vintage not aged in oak. “It’s something, but it’s not wine.”
A full feature on East Coast Wood Barrels will appear in an upcoming edition of northforker’s Long Island Wine Press.