It's question of taste and culture.
Oak barrels have been part of the wine business for hundreds of years. Long before tankers, plastics, stainless steel and cheap glass there was only one way to move wine whether the trip was minutes, months or years.
The shipper had to use a barrel. Or maybe a goatskin (but we won't go there).
Slowly but surely the customer began to acquire a taste for the wood the wine was shipped in. And after awhile it was discovered that the barrel had some effect on how the wine aged.
Certain styles of wines are directly attributable to how the barrel was used in the process. The big exporting region of Bordeaux was always using new barrels because the last ones they had were shipped.
As much as things have changed they've also stayed the same. Wine makers always explore alternatives but many believe a portion of time in quality oak barrels is the road to excellence for many varieties, despite the imprecise characteristics of the wood from vessel to vessel.
The first step to building a quality barrel program for a winery is having a quality source for oak barrels. Artisan Barrels is a good example of the kind of company the has a passion for barrels. I had an opportunity to talk to Jerome Aubin from Artisan the other day. He really knows his stuff. But he's also a good listener. He let me yak and yak while he assessed what I needed and where Artisan could help fit the bill. As one pro to the other, it was a pleasure dealing with him.