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A trip to a French barrel factory

We seldom get a chance to see where some of the things we use on a daily basis come from.  So as a winemaker, I was thrilled to visit Dargaud & Jaegle in Romaneche Thorins, France this spring as a guest of Eric Fourthon and directorJean-Marcel Jaegle to tour the amazing facility that builds some of the best wine barrels in the world.
Eric spent a few years in the Okanagan Valley working at a local barrel maker.When he returned to France, he left an open invitation to look him up. So we did.
After a brief welcome from Mr. Jaegle, we started our tour.
At one time, before plastic and cheap steel and other modern materials, goods moved in barrels or casks made of wood.  Whether it was nails, biscuits or mackerel; when it had to ship a crate or a barrel was the only way to go.

These days, your new sneakers don’t come packed in barrels but beverage producers still make use of this ancient packaging custom to enhance their product.

If you drink a little wine now and then, especially red wines, you may know that many wines spend a period of their development in barrels made of wood, for the most part, oak.  The barrels impart flavour and allow the wines to grow more intense over time due to evaporation and transpiration.
In my role in the cellar, I’ve been treated to endless glossy images and dazzling videos of the barrel making process.  But until you actually visit, it’s difficult to appreciate the artistry and dedication to quality that occurs at every step of the barrel’s creation.
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Oak from selected forests is stored in the yard where it ages over a set period, often for two years or more.

 

 

 

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Strict rules are in effect for the oak yard. Spacing and height are regulated. One person’s stacks of valuable oak are another’s fuel for a damaging fire.

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At every step, care and attention is paid to spotting defects in the oak. Here the rough cut staves are inspected for flaws.

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Each piece of wood and each barrel can be traced back to the yard stack it came from, and from there, the forest it was cut from. At this point the staves are still straight and are ready to be bent into their familiar shape.

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The barrels are placed in extremely hot water for a set time period and then sent directly to the machine that pulls them into shape.

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The still steaming barrel has a steel cable placed around it and the wood is pulled into shape. Temporary bands are at hand to be placed over the newly shaped barrel when the procedure is complete.

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Newly assembled barrels get more attention while they wait to have the ends formed for the addition of the heads.

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Barrels heads are assembled on this table before their circular shape is cut.

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At the end of the process, barrels are wrapped and identified with the name of the purchaser for shipping. On the day we were there, a number of these barrels were destined for Stryker Vineyards in California.

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