Our winemaker Stacy Vogel recently returned from a week in Bordeaux where she had the unique opportunity to oversee the oak barrel production process. She also got to select oak for the next vintage of Miner Family Winery barrels! The outline below provides a glimpse into the process of oak selection, harvest and barrel production. Please enjoy Stacy’s photos as well!
Seguin Moreau Cooperage, Bordeaux, France
The Quercus Petraea (sessile oak) tree takes 220 years to reach maturity before it can be harvested for barrels. The French National Forest Office has been managing the forests since the time of Louis XIV in the 17th century, originally to supply long, straight trees for the masts of naval ships. They thin the young trees and remove trees with large knots or other obvious defects. Each winter the office marks the trees that are available for auction. After the auction, the buyer harvests the trees and transports them to their stave mill.
The average harvested tree is 80-100 feet tall. Only 20-30 feet of that is usable for wine barrel staves; the rest is used for lumber and firewood pellets. 60-150 staves can be created from each tree, which can make 2-4 barrels. 220 years for 2 barrels!!
Once the tree arrives in the stave mill, the logs are watered daily to maintain a 70% moisture level until each log can be processed into staves. Each log has samples taken from the core and analyzed to determine which barrel profile the staves will go into. The logs are tagged with bar codes that will be tracked to the final barrels produced.
Once cut, the staves are transferred to the Cooperage to age outside for 2 or 3 years, depending on the program. Fun fact: the logs that come from the Verdun area are marked to handle very carefully as they often contain bullets, which can break their saw blades. Verdun was an area of intense fighting during WW2.
Finally, the aged staves are cut to size and fitted into barrels. Barrels are toasted for 25 – 35 minutes each to achieve the desired toasting level. Then they are finally shipped to their winery customer.