McMinnville, Oregon A step in the winemaking process that is often overlooked, is the role of the barrel maker, referred to as the cooper. Rick DeFerrari, of Oregon Barrel Works, started learning how to make barrels back in 1992 where he apprenticed at the century old French cooperage François Frères in Burgundy.
Most wine barrels are made from oak and DeFerrari uses primarily French Oak and Oregon Oak woods. “All of our French wood comes from government owned land. The French have done a good job of managing their oak forests. Finland and France are the only 2 European countries that have an increasing land base for forestry. And all the wood is meticulously manicured; when the French government gets ready to sell a piece of land, they have an auction and the highest bidder gets those trees.”, says DeFerrari.
Mr. DeFerrari explains his barrel making process in greater detail:
“We bring container loads of stave wood in from France. The staves are rough sawn. They’re random lengths, they’re about a meter in length, and any where from about 2 inches to about 4 1/2 inches wide. From there we’ll cut them to lengths, we’ll plane a curve on the inside and plane a curve on the outside, and then we’ll joint the wood making it kinda wider in the middle and narrow at each end, and having that bevel so it fits that radius of our barrel.
“We’ll start with the barrel open, what we call the rows. So all the staves are arranged, and again, there are set number of staves in a barrel since all the staves are random widths. What we know, we know the circumference of the barrel we want to build, and so we’ll put in the exact number of staves to make that circumference.
“After we get the rows raised we’ll actually heat the barrel up, wrap a cable around it and slowly pull it together with a little bit of water to bring it together and make all those joints marry together [editors note: as you’ll see in the video]. It’s a pretty important part to get them so that they’re really adhered to one another and pressed together. After we do that we’ll continue toasting the barrel – and the winemaker will specify what kind of toast we’ll do on that barrel, so we’re custom making everything for wineries. And basically that’s a time, temperature, and a little bit of visual – like okay that’s a medium plus, that’s a medium toast – so there’s some variables in there.”
Once finished, the barrel is delivered, ready for use.
“The grapes have natural tannins in them, but it’s going to pick up tannins from the wood barrel. You’re building color, you’re building mouth feel, you’re building aromas, and you’re building flavors when you store in a barrel,” says Rick DeFerrari.
Visit Yamhill Valley Wines for their “Wines of the Valley” series that features the history, quality and diversity of the Yamhill Valley’s flourishing wine industry. For the introductory video, along with the video series list, check out the first post on CUPS: The Yamhill Valley Wine Region of Oregon