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Coopers (or Barrel Makers)
Wooden barrels or casks play an important role in making and aging wine, providing the wine with aromatic notes of coconut, vanilla, buttered bread and caramel.
Coopers are craftsmen who make and repair barrels. The craft dates back centuries and has changed very little over time. Making barrels still requires the hands of an expert.
Because the wood is the key factor in the quality of the barrel, coopers hand-select the best oak, often from European forests. Once the wood is selected, logs are split and the wood is aged naturally through exposure to air and water.
After aging, lengths of wood (called staves) are carefully shaped then assembled.
At this point, the cooper seals the joints by running a wet cloth over the staves and placing the barrel over a fire. This stage is called chauffe, meaning “warm-up". The “toast" of the wood can be light, medium or heavy – a decision made by the winemaker based on the style of wine to be aged and the aromas sought. Once the warming-up is over, the wood is pliable and can gradually be arched and tightened to obtain the shape of the barrel.
The standard capacity of a Bordeaux barrel is 225 liters.
From beginning to end, the barrel making process requires approximately eight hours of work, almost all exclusively by hand.
To learn more, read our article on the craft of the cooper.