Monthly Archives: September 2015
Staring through to a barrel’s soul…September 13, 2015
At stomp! we’re passionate about re-purposing our old wine barrels. We believe they have a ‘soul’, an amazing history and a story to tell. They are destined for greater heights than old age as flower pots.
As winemakers, aside from grapes, oak is the most important component of many of our wines. It plays a major part in the handcrafting process and helps impart the many nuances of flavour eventually poured into your glass.
But even before the barrel is a major conduit in our hand crafted wines, it too, is lovingly forged by hand. Forget machined timber, flat packed, IKEA specials. These babies are the real deal… handcrafting at its best!
Not that I want to diminish your awe for your favourite winemakers. But it’s about time we helped foster some of the same for our beloved coopers.
Let’s start with their initial material – the oak tree. It’s typically grown for 90 -120 years before harvesting. Don’t panic, there’s lots of rules and regulations to follow when harvesting oak plantations.
Fallen trees are then cut into logs which are hand split to create barrel staves. First into halves, then quarters, then eighths… and finally into approximate barrel stave size. And we dare baulk at chopping a little firewood!
You know they could get twice as many useable staves if they were to saw the logs, but this tends to raise the tannin and astringency to an unacceptably high level for fussy winemakers! Hand splitting also preserves the wood grain, not breaking veins, which is essential to making impermeable barrels – something else winemakers are fastidious about!
Hand-cut rough staves are then allowed to dry for two to five years in the open air. Albeit this process could be sped up by more rapid kiln drying, air drying decreases the possibility of barrel leakage, and leaches more tannins from the wood, resulting in a softer, finer finished wine.
Once dried, the Cooper can finally begin to form the finely finished staves. These are cut to proper length, tapered at each end, bevelled, planed on the outside and slightly hollowed on the inside, assembled and toasted. And don’t get the shape of the staves wrong, because it’s essential to winemakers, that when they are brought together and curved into shape, the barrel is watertight – without the aid of glue!
Check out this great video to see a Cooper at work.
At this point it’s interesting to note that it takes years of experience to be a Cooper and Master Coopers have often trained for 20 years – starting as an apprentice and shadowing Master Coopers. Remember they are learning an age-old skill, one dating back to the Roman times.
After all these years, and being caressed by loving, expert hands, the barrel finally makes it into our winery. Here it weaves it’s magic, imparting fine flavours to our wines for a wee useful life of approximately 5 years. Sadly, after this short period of time, the oak has little or no beneficial flavour components left. No longer able to add complexity to our wine the barrel essentially becomes a neutral storage vessel. Some of these are of vital importance to store our gracefully ageing port, whilst the rest are retired to our son’s workshop.
Here, yet another young, enthusiastic craftsman starts his art – painstakingly disassembling the barrel… drying the staves for approximately 12 months… and on it goes…
So, when you next see one of our re-purposed barrel creations, spare a thought for its history – the years growing; the expert barrel coopers hands lovingly guiding the barrel into shape; the years of weaving magic with our winemaker; storing our gorgeous port and the imagination it has sparked in our young son as he creatively recycles and adds to the story…