Getting the right wood and then ageing it correctly is without doubt the single most important step in a cooperage for making wooden barrels. If the raw material is not right then the barrel that comes out of it at the end, will certainly not be right.
Oak has of course been the wood of choice to make barrels, because it is watertight, supple and hard – it will allow just enough oxygen to reach the contents of the barrel to smooth the wine and bring out its complexity. Imparting an oaky finish to the wine, is not a necessary function of the oak and indeed some wine producers purposefully reuse barrels and use larger oak barrels to minimise the oak finish.
Traditionally French oak is the premium choice for wine makers and is what is used for most of the used port wine barrels we supply. American oak is more commonly used for ageing sherry and spirits.
At our cooperage we age French, European and American oak as well as chestnut and acacia. As you can see in the video below, getting the ageing process right for the wood is extremely important, as otherwise the staves will not bend easily and tend to crack. Seasoning the wood has to be done outside where the vagaries of the weather contribute to the ageing process and the moisture content of the wood will slowly drop until it is ready to bend.
Here you can see the work that goes into preparing staves for our new barrel production: