The Cooper’s Art
Much is said about the art of the winemaker, less is said about the art of the viticulturist and practically nothing is said about the art of the cooper. And yet a great wine will he won or lost with the cooperage (wooden barrels) which one uses. As with any profession, there are those coopers who take extreme pride in their craft, others who do not. There are coopers who are innovative and those who are strict traditionalists. Some coopers have a gift for finding the best wood. In the end, a barrel made by one cooper can behave very differently from that of another cooper. A barrel from Francois Frere tends to show its toast in the wine (a smokey quality) while that of Seguin Moreau is more delicate and ethereal; Billon’s barrels tend to give relatively strong aromas from the wood of which they are made while Damy’s are more subtle. The barrels of some coopers seem to do better with Chardonnay while those of others are best with Pinot noir. Not surprisingly, I have noticed that various villages in Burgundy tend to produce coopers whose barrels do best with the dominant variety of that village. So, for example, while Meursault’s Damy is better for Chardonnay, Nuit St. George’s Francols Frere is better for Pinot noir. In addition, just as blends of clones in the vineyards and blends of different vineyard blocks in the cellar tend to make superior wine, a blend of different coopers in the makeup of one’s wine tends to add complexity to the final product. While the coopers of Burgundy each have their own peculiar nuances, they do apparently have one thing in common: they’re getting rich! The price of one 60-gallon French oak barrel (capable of making approximately 24 cases of wine) now runs well over $500. You can do the rest of the math!
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