French Oak Cooperage Distribution
French Oak Cooperage Pty Ltd is the exclusive Australian and New Zealand representative for the following respected brands...
French Oak Cooperage Philosophy
Philippe Morin French Oak Cooperage Pty Ltd imports and distributes for Australian and New Zealand wineries, the finest quality French Oak barrels and unique Concrete Wine Tanks, hand-crafted in France.
Philippe Morin offers personalised service to winemakers through barrels tasting, evaluation and consultation to gain an understanding of what you are aiming to achieve. This enables Philippe to be a part of your team effort, whilst helping you select the right French Oak barrels for your wines.
Prior to developing French Oak Cooperage in 2003, Philippe Morin, a former sommelier, brings to you 25 years of wine tasting experience, in all types of wine styles from almost every wine producing country on the globe.
As a witness and participant of Australia's wine explosion over the past two decades, Philippe Morin has obtained a deep understanding of the local and international wine industry.
Being at the forefront of his craft enables him to understand a winemaker's dream, respect their integrity, and help nurture their own unique style.
French Oak Forests & Wines
This overview tries to distill all my wine tasting experienced from barrels across most wine regions. Foremost is the fact that two schools of thought from winemakers and coopers have dominated winemaking styles across all winemaking countries: 'Single Forest Origin vs Oak Grains'.
Some winemakers and coopers such as Tonnellerie D'Aquitaine are influenced by the geographical origin of regions (Allier, Vosges, West of France etc...) and furthermore by specific French Oak forests within a region (i.e. Civrais forest within Allier) in choosing or recommending a barrel for a given wine (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Shiraz...).
Others prefer to work with the Oak Grain tightness often linked to poorer soils and view the French Oak texture as more significant than its geographical identity.
It is evident that both camps are actually the 'heads & tails' of the same coin or if you prefer like 'Ying & Yang', they complement each other. The combination of coopers and French Oak forests enriches and brings complexities to the winemaker's art of blending. As they say "Variety is the spice of life!"
We also note that some coopers have had a tradition of working with individual French Oak forests due to their clients requesting that particular origin; whereas other coopers prefer blending French Oak forests origins and focusing on grain tightness to offer their own house style.
Always experimenting and fine tuning their craft has allowed coopers to be proactive to match the winemaker's aim and consumer's needs, to create wines that express more fruit freshness and purity. Coopers and winemakers depend more and more on barrels with a lower oak (wood) impact. The interaction and relationship of integration and implication of seasoning, toasting and grain texture have been addressed and researched extensively by coopers represented by French Oak Cooperage.
This is demonstrated by excellent results in wineries. New barrels with the new toast profile such as Tonnellerie D'Aquitaine "WM or WM+" are a very vibrant example. These barrel developments are two individual expressions aiming in that direction. An evolution in progress, yet the fundamentals are still in place, and all the barrels are hand-crafted the traditional way.
Whilst in France, Burgundy wines (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) benefit from medium-tight grain barrel ageing that seems to enhance their less tannic structure and Bordeaux wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc ...) have been traditionally aged in tighter grain barrels (forest blend) that soften up their more tannic body due to a slower extraction.
In Australia these wood associations had to be re-evaluated to accommodate different clone varietals, climatic conditions and soils being quite different to France. However winemakers recognise the strength and qualities of their varietals within a given region and have shown their enthusiasm and flexibility in order to trial new barrels offering specific origin or grain type combined with new toasting which complement the varietal/wine better, hence finding the right balance of flavour and appeal for their client.
The Tradition lives on
Most French Oak forests used by coopers are owned by the government and managed by the "ONF" (Office National des Forets). The ONF is responsible for the maintenance of the state forests (Forets Domaniales). Only a small number of forests are privately owned. Two main oak species can be found in both privately owned and government managed forests: Robur oak (Quercus Robur) and Pedunculate oak (Quercus Pedonculata).
The wood is inspected by the cooper or the wood broker in the forest and bought at end-of-the-year auctions (winter) when the tree's sap level is lowest. The defects-free wood logs are then cut to rough stave size and split mechanically (as shown above) with axes following the grain of the wood.
The staves are stacked and open-air dried for a minimum of two years. This ageing in wind, rain and sun serves to diminish the wood's harsh, sappy flavors as well as reducing the excessive oak tannins.
The shell is heated over an open fire, causing water in the wood to steam, which allows the staves to be bent without cracking. This takes about 20 minutes. Afterwards, a cable and winch are used to close the other end, which is then hooped. This is known as the first fire-bending. The second firing, also about 20 minutes, conditions the barrel and relieves stress. The interior becomes drier and hard where it is close to the fire, while the outside softens and stretches as it warms.
Aside from oak selecting, toasting is the most important barrel making stage for the winemaker. Each cooper has its own way of doing it, its own recipe to best fire and toast a barrel.
Toast levels scale from light, medium, medium+/Plus and Forte (heavy) each has a significant flavour profile ranging from slightly toasty grilled bread, to caramel butterscotch, to smoky bacon.
The aged staves (from 24 to 36 months) are sorted to eliminate any that are damaged. The staves are cut to size, planed and shaped to obtain the desired concavity and form. Then, the edges are jointed in order to form a circle when bent and assembled. Despite the different widths of staves, the angle remains the same. The staves are jointed and temporarily hooped at one end to form an open cone shape. This is called "raising the barrel" or "montage en rose".
Barrel heads are made separately: head pieces are planned and assembled using dowels. A river reed is used between the joints to seal them perfectly. Further on, barrel heads are edged and headed into the shell using traditional dough (prepared with cold water, rye flour and a little wood ash). Sanding then takes place dressing the barrel's external surface with a smooth finish.
The cooper inserts six to ten galvanized steel hoops to keep the barrel tight. Watertight testing is implemented to control the barrel's integrity and the detection of leaks. Barrel heads are individually hand-polished and fire-branded to ensure a perfect finish.
Ordering French Oak Barrels
All barrels are "Made To Order" in France upon receipt of your order
Therefore due to the limited capacities of our coopers, we encourage wineries to place their order early, ideally from September to November each year for delivery before harvest. Wineries should estimate around 4/5 weeks lead time for manufacture and another 8 weeks to cover shipping from France and deliveries to Australia/New Zealand wineries. Please also note that some of our forests origins (*) are allocated in limited quantities.
We do keep a small inventory of barrels in stock in our warehouse in Adelaide South Australia to assist wineries with off-season requirements for extra new barrels. Please give us a call first to find out what is available.
The best ways to order
Winemakers can place their orders by faxing their signed Purchase Order, or Email scanned copy of signed Purchase Order. Feel free to give us a call and we will be happy to give you any information or advice you may need.
Enquiries for all brands represented by French Oak Cooperage Pty Ltd
For further assistance or simply a chat with Philippe please contact us today.