The story of barrels continues.
At first, barrels were constructed from whatever trees were available. Archaeological digs in London’s Canary Wharf have unearthed fragments of barrels containing a wide selection of wood. In Beaujolais, the early monks used chestnut barrels to store and ship wine. Monks in Burgundy were attracted to the sturdiness of oak barrels.
In early times, forests covered most of the landmass of Europe. Settlements such as Paris or Vienna grew alongside rivers, since transportation of commerce overland was much more difficult. Forests were reserved as playgrounds for aristocrats. As nations formed, however, timber was required for construction of all kinds of items — from ships to barrels — and forests were thinned. Louis XIV established the French forests we know today as a national resource to build ships-of-the-line for his navy. If you look closely at the early trading ships, you can see a barrel influence on hull design that remained up to the 1800.
Through careful husbandry, French forests have doubled in size over the past 150 years covering almost 30% of the landmass of the country. Given the growing demand by New World winemakers for barrels made from French oak, the sustainability of her oak forests is a wonderful example of resource management.
New sources of oak are responding to the demand. Wine barrels are also constructed from oak trees grown in Slovenia and Russia. In America, barrels are constructed from oak grown in eastern states, as well as Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota. (Oregon produces barrels from a native species of oak that is gaining popularity with local wine producers, because it bears many similarities to French oak.) Canadian oak tends to offer a middle ground of wood influence between French and American-made barrels.
Next week we will examine these differences.
This week I tasted the Stanners Vineyard, 2010, Cabernet Franc ($25), made from 100% County fruit. This bright garnet wine has a nose of crushed, mixed berries and earthy tobacco. The palate offers a rich mouthful of raspberry with a touch of vanilla, and a red beetroot earthiness, along with the ever-present clean County minerality.
Winemaker, Colin Stanner, crafted this winner at his winery located at 76 Station Road, in Hillier. Total production was less than 250 cases, and will soon be sold out.
Wines of the County is featured every week in The Times and on the East & Main Bistro website.