You bring up the very point that the California winemaker brought up. The difference, if anyone can tell by tasting the wine, likely shows up in the taste of oxidation. But if the wine is in good shape, the oxidation from barrel aging shouldn't be too invasive and so most people, especially those who have no palate/sensory training, wouldn't be able to focus on the difference between barrel aged and wood chips.
In addition, a winemaker using chips could also duplicate to some extent the oxidative nature of barrel aging through other, technical, means.
I would not want to be tested on this, but I believe the difference may be discernable if one can focus on integration. The way I look at it, chips invade--barrels are more communal to the wine.
To me the issue brings up another point. What is it we are trying to do to wine by adding wood to it? In barrels it isn't only the wood but the oxidation and integration. If chips can't offer that, why are they used at all?
To take the issue further, I always wonder why barrels became part of the winemaking process. Barrels were first used to store and to transport wine (there were no stainless tanks back then). From my understanding, barrels were introduced by the Franks who had a lot of forest wood and who had neither pottery know-how nor desire to learn. When Rome fell, so did the amphora, and so rose the use of barrels for storage and shipping. I'll bet the Franks didn't toast their barrels, didn't blend wine aged in old and new wood, probably didn't ferment in them either.
The older I get, the less I enjoy wine as wood, so I am not crazy about the direction of chips. I fear Bill may be wrong. The "expensive" geek-oriented wines will be chipped too--and some already are...