May 23, 2018
The art of Coopering
“One barrel of wine can work more miracles than a church full of saints.” – Old Italian Proverb
The importance of the humble oak barrel in the making of wine cannot be overstated. Barrels not only impart flavour and aroma, they also enrich the colour of wine. While wooden barrels are key to viticulture today, the initial discovery of their character enhancing attributes was by accident rather than design.
When the Romans conquered Gaul (present-day France) around 100BC they quickly adopted the local practice of transporting liquids in oak barrels. Previously they, like the ancient Egyptians before them, had been carrying and keeping their wine in clay amphorae. Not only were these vessels fragile and impractical, they also tainted the wine. The Romans noticed that after a time, wine stored in wood tasted better.
Fast forward a couple of millennia and the contemporary craft of the oak barrel influences the quality and art of winemaking in ways the Romans could only ever imagine.
While the wine barrel today offers a spice rack of choices for the winemaker, many subtleties of flavour, richness of tannins and aromatic complexities begin with the barrel maker (cooper). This complicated craft demands an understanding of everything from how the type of oak, the way it is cut, the run of the grain and the techniques used for drying, shaping and toasting it, will contribute to the wine.
For the winemaker, barrel related wood chemistry terms like phenols; furfural, oak, lactones, terpenes and hydrolysable tannins form a big part of a lexicon of factors and options for drawing out the flavour, texture and personality of the wine. Controlled oxidation too is a major player during barrel ageing, this results in decreased astringency and increased colour and stability.
At Boulder Bay, we employ the finest French oak barrels. These are made from trees at least 100 years old displaying a straight grain with no knots. Any variances in the structure of a tree would impart noticeable differences to the finished wine. A barrel is only good for between five and seven years depending on the wine. After that it loses its flavour.
Our source is Boutes and Barthe Sons cooperage in Bordeaux. We use their Grand Reserve barrels. These are produced in limited numbers and are purposely crafted to highlight the purity of both the fruit and the terroir.
Bold, ripe and plummy flavours, that is what our Syrah’s are known for.
À votre santé !