Thursday, March 23, 2017
How a Barrel is Made: Visit of the Cooperage Berger & Fils in Vertheuil – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
A very special stop during the 2016 Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours was the one at Cooperage Berger et Fils. Until very recently and for a long time, the company was a family-company, run and owned by René Berger and his wife Valérie Berger. Cooperage Berger & Fils in Vertheuil was recently acquired by the TFF Group.
When I first visited Cooperage Berger & Fils in Vertheuil the company was still owned and run by the Berger family. Valérie Berger was our guide and we met René Berger durng the tour. At that time the web site of Cooperage Berger & Fils contained a very detailed description of the whole barrel making process, which I used for my block posting.
In this posting, I kept the text of René and Valérie Berger. The pictures are from the 2016 tour.
The Managing Director of Cooperage Berger & Fils was our guide.
TFF Group, formerly Tonnellerie Frany detacois Freres SA, is a France-based company that manufactures and distributes oak barrels. The Company has four core businesses: stave milling, cooperage, cask manufacturing and oak wine-aging products. The Company has operating units in France, the United States, Spain, Hungary, South Africa, China, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland.
Cooperage Berger and Fils
René Berger: My passion was born from that of my father and grandfather. I am the proud descendant of a family of coopers, based in the Médoc, a truly exceptional land, since the beginning of the last century. From a very young age, these two men breathed into me the love of manual work and craftsmanship. They raised me in the pure artisanal tradition of master coopers, passing down their ancestral savoir-faire. It was therefore a natural conclusion that I should become a cooper in my turn.
When my father passed away in 1991, my first aim was to preserve and perpetuate his work, transmitting the craftsman’s skills to my own children. My mother’s full support was very important to me then, as it is now. It was also important to me to fight against an increasing standardization of production within the profession.
Making a Barrel
The Managing Director of Cooperage Berger & Fils took us through the whole process of producing a wine barrel.
Valérie Berger: A wine barrel is made up of staves which have been shaped into a bulging cylinder, and flat heads or ends. The staves are held in place by metal hoops. Six to eight hoops encircle the barrel spaced along the length. It takes approximately eight man hours to produce a single wine barrel.
Selection of the Oak
Valérie Berger: We choose the wood for our barrels with the help of well-known professionals, selecting slow-growing French Haute Futaie oak trees which become fine grain timber.
French oak is considered to be the most desirable wood for making wine barrels. Most French Oak comes from one or more of the forests planted in the days of Napoleon for ship building. Five of those forests are primarily used for wine barrel making: Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Trancais and Vosges forests. American Oak is considered to have too much influence on the content of the barrels. But usage is on the rise as the larger influence is sometimes desired and as American barrels are substantially less expensive than the French barrels. Hungarian Oak is also being used for barrel making.
The Stavemaker’s Work
Valérie Berger: To achieve the best blends, we acquire stave wood coming from different forests in the centre of France. For the same reason, we work in collaboration with different stave makers in the various areas ensuring a diversification in our supplies. Since 2003 we have developed a partnership with one of them who now prepares staves exclusively for the Tonnellerie Berger.
The selection of the stave wood is extremely important because it essentially determines the quality of the finished product. Wood is selected based on many criteria, including tree shape and growing conditions. These factors determine the textural variety of wood fibers, the fineness of grain and tannin content. Tight grain and fine tannin content are found only in the best wood.
Coding the Wood
Valérie Berger: Each pallet is coded by computer on arrival at our cooperage in Vertheuil, thus allowing the traceability of the barrel. The staves are then carefully stacked in the timber yard.
Natural Seasoning for 36 Months
Valérie Berger: Following the coding the staves are washed and then dried in the open air for at least 3 years in our 16,000 M2 timber yard. The wood will free itself of its harsh tannins and will gain the maturity and complexity necessary for the making of a great barrel.
Preparation of the Wood
Valérie Berger: Pallets of staves will be selected according to their origin, and assembled to create a personalized blend corresponding to the needs and wishes of each customer.
Valérie Berger: Once selected, the staves are prepared and then assembled on a pattern table where the cooper “raises the barrel”, forming a daisy shape. The wood fibres are softened by pre-heating. Then comes the hooping that, thanks to the effects of fire and water, transforms the daisy into a barrel.
Valérie Berger: The crucial stage of our art. Only the complete mastery of wood and fire makes the difference between a simple container and an exceptional barrel ready to age the wine. The “bousinage”, adapted to respect the particularities requested by each client, exults and nuances the aromas expressed by the wood. The hand-crafted nature of our cooperage enables us to create a tailor-made barrel for each and every one of our customers.
Hand-fitting, Marking and Scalding
Valérie Berger: The barrel heads are then individually fitted and each barrel is stamped to ensure traceability. A code records the origin and blend of the wood. An impermeability test is carried out by scalding. 10 litres of water heated to 70° C is pumped at high pressure into the barrel which is moved around so that the water is in contact with the whole surface of the inside of the barrel. This process allows us to check for possible leaks but also to collect test water to be analysed for each finished barrel in the aim of receiving the “Excell Inspection” certificate.
Valérie Berger: At this stage we take great care of the aesthetic appearance of our barrel. They are thus sandpapered or hand-scraped for customers who prefer the “guistrage” finish. And the final galvanized steel hoops replace the assembly hoops. And last of all, according to the type of barrel, pine bars held in place by chestnut pegs are set on the heads for the Château Ferré, and four chestnut hoops, bound with a type of wicker are installed for the Bordelaise Traditionnelle. This last step is carried out only by very experienced craftsmen. It is a true heritage of ancestral expertise that can only be mastered after years of practice.
While on the tour I detected on the wall a list of the orders Cooperage Berger et Fils was working on while we were there. This was an impressive list and included, interestingly, Boxwood Winery and RdV Estate, two highly regarded wine producers in Virginia.
Postings on the Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France (Posted and Forthcoming):
Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015), France
Bordeaux Wine Tour 2013 by ombiasy
Bordeaux Wines and their Classifications: The Basics
Bordeaux - En Primeur, Negociants, Courtiers, the Quai de Chartons and the Place de Bordeaux – A Short Introduction
How Does the Negociant System in Bordeaux Work? Tour and Tasting at Millésima - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Dining and Wining on Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris: La Rotonde, Le Dôme and La Coupole, France – Pre-Bordeaux Wine Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours, France
Tour and Tasting from Barrel at Domaine de Chevalier, Graves, Appellation Pessac-Léognan, Grand Cru Classé, with Owner Adrien Bernard - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Dinner with a View: At Restaurant L’Estacade in Bordeaux City - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Bars in Bordeaux City - An Update
Schiller’s Favorite Seafood Places in Bordeaux City, France - An Update
Saint Emilion Wines and their Classification, Bordeaux, France
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Bars in St. Emilion, France
The Wine Empire of the von Neipperg Family in France, Bulgaria and Germany
Tour and Tasting at Château Canon La Gaffelière, Appellation Saint-Emilion, Premier Grand Cru Classé – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Tour and Wine Pairing Lunch at Château Beauséjour, Appellation Puisseguin Saint-Emilion, with Owner/ Winemaker Gérard Dupuis - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Tour and Tasting at Château Figeac, Premier Grand Cru Classé B, in Saint-Émilion – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Tour and Tasting at Château Beauregard, Appellation Pomerol – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Tour with Dany Rolland: Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Wine-pairing Lunch at Château Le Bon Pasteur, Pomerol, with Dany Rolland – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Tasting were it all Started: At the "Garage" of Jean-Luc Thunevin, Owner and Winermaker of Château Valandraud, Premier Grand Cru Classé since 2012 - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Charcuterie and Fromage at Chez Pascal in Saint Emilion - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Tour and Tasting at Château de Fargues, Sauternes, with Prince Eudes d’Orléans - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Wine-pairing Lunch at the 1-star Michelin Restaurant Claude Darroze, with Marie-Hélène Lévêque, Owner of Châteaux Chantegrive - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Visit: Château de Chantegrive, Appellation Grave, with Owner Marie-Hélène Lévêque - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Visit and Tasting: Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan, Grand Cru Classé – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015), France
Lunch at the Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte Restaurant La Grand’ Vigne (Chef: Nicolas Masse, 2 Stars Michelin) - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Visit of La Cité du Vin - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Lunch at Pinasse Café, Cap Ferret - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Visiting an Oyster Farm at Arcachon Bay, Bordeaux: Raphael Doerfler at Earl Ostrea Chanca - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
The 5 Premiers Grands Crus Chateaux en 1855 of Bordeaux, France
What is a Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois? France
Tour and Tasting at Château Palmer, Margaux, 3ième Grand Cru Classé - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Tour and Tasting at Château Pichon-Longueville Baron in Pauillac - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Lunch at Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron with Chef à Domicile Bernadet Damien - Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Tour and Tasting at Château Lafon-Rochet with Owner Michel Tesseron – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
At the Invitation of Owner Michel Tesseron: Private Dinner at Château Lafon-Rochet, Saint-Estèphe, 4ième Grand Cru Classé – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Tour and Tasting at Château Sociando Mallet, Appellation Haut-Médoc – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
How a Barrel is Made: Visit of the Cooperage Berger & Fils in Vertheuil
Lunch were the Locals eat: At Le Peyrat in Saint-Estèphe in Saint Estephe
Tour and Tasting at Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint-Julien, 2ième Grand Cru Classé, with Anne Cuvelier
Tour and Tasting at Château Margaux, Appellation Margaux, 1ière Grand Cru Classé
Tour and Tasting at Château Kirwan, Appellation Margaux, 3ième Grand Cru Classé, with Owner Nathalie Schyler
Picnic Lunch at Château Kirwan, Appellation Margaux, 3ième Grand Cru Classé, with Owner Nathalie Schyler
Tour and Wine Dinner at Château Haut-Bailly, Graves, Appellation Pessac-Léognan, Grand Cru Classé, with Daina Paulin