For our immediate post-harvest escape after one of our best, if not biggest, grape harvests of recent years we visited friends in Brittany. Weather amazing, ate a lot of oysters, discovered how well our newest wine, “Elizabeth’s 2015” went with same and enjoyed lovely St Cado, near Carnac.
Then we set off south, on a mission to find a replacement barrel. We mature one barrel’s-worth of our wine each year in oak, to give about 250 hand-numbered bottles of a special, single-barrel, oaked wine. Um, no, no research or planning on buying barrels actually. Well, always liked an adventure…
Our lovely hand coopered barrel made by Master Cooper Alastair Sims, then of Wadworth’s in Devizes, had done five vintages and Steve the winemaker had said, time to move it on. Display? Garden tubs? Ice buckets for big, wild parties…? The blogpost of when we brought it home from Wadworths cooperage back in 2010 is here>>.
We headed first for the Tonnellerie Baron at Saintes in the Charente, because that’s the cooperage of Lionel Kreff who gave the Wineskills course on using oak that I went on a couple of years back. They pride themselves on combining the latest in laser cutting of staves with otherwise traditional methods.
After driving most of the day, lunching at one of the those nice French motorway “aires” on oysters and rillettes thoughtfully bought by Iain as we left St Cado, we drew in overnight on a whim to La Rochelle, the beautiful location of my first ever trip abroad from home in Taunton at the age of 17, for a nostalgia moment. It hasn’t changed all that much. Still ravishing.The Ibis wasn’t all that special but had rooms and was very handy for the Vieux Port. After a rather memorable dinner at l’Aunis and a wander around the dimly-but-fondly remembered colonaded streets of gold-and-grey stone, we slept and set off south west on a crisp, sunny morning for the short drive to Saintes.
At the Tonnellerie Baron it turned out that actually you didn’t just turn up in your jeans, look at some barrels in a yard, pick one out and shove it the back of the truck. They received us very hospitably though, in their posh reception area, and explained gently, to these naive foreigners, that they made barriques to order, as required to match the wines, and even if they sometimes had a few in stock, now at the end of harvest it would be very few. They kindly checked their computer, but, no, sorry, nothing that would suit a light, cool climate white, and they wouldn’t dream of selling us something that wouldn’t be right. Asked for possible other sources they helpfully mentioned Taransaud and Seguin Moreau in Cognac, not far away. This is after all the centre of the barrique-making world, they said.
Taransaud, at Merpins just outside Cognac, again, kindly received us in glossy surroundings with a pretty display of coopers’ hand tools hanging from the ceiling ( our last barrel was actually made with these) but no, nothing suitable unless we would consider a larger barrel. We needed to be able to get it in the truck and Steve needs to manage it with no special equipment so no, not really.
It was a bit more hopeful at Seguin Moreau, just up the road on the same industrial estate. They did have some stock on hand. Oh and how about it this, their new “Fraicheur” range, specially developed for light, white varietals? They showed us the leaflet with a tasting spider diagram done for Chardonnay matured in this barrel, showing increased citric and fruit flavours and decreased oaky tannic flavours. Achieved by using acacia wood for the barrel heads, and a very light toast on the steam-formed French sessile oak staves. At the barrel seminar, Lionel had talked about different oaks and other woods, including chestnut (still used sometimes in Spain) and acacia (sometimes used in a small proportion of barrels to blend into Sauternes, adding brightness to the flavour) so it didn’t sound that outlandish. We had liked the light toast of our old barrel, so this ultra-light toast sounded good.
So, we didn’t think long. Looked at each other and YESS, seemed just the job and it should be an interesting experiment. We’d go for it! We dug out a credit card. But Uh-oh. Not being set up for retail, no, they couldn’t take credit cards. No machine. Hmm, that’d never occurred to us. Quick calculation. No, it was more than we could get cash out for in time. Invoice? Er, no. A rule about not exporting without prior payment. Stuck!
But in the end they checked out our website, our passports, a scruffy old vineyard Christmas card from the truck’s glovebox, and, Woo-hoo!, decided they would take a chance on our promise to pay by IBAN, soon as we got back. They set us up an account and sent us away because it was lunchtime, sacrosanct and lengthy in rural France. They’d phone when they’d packed it. So we headed for sleepy, gentle, historic Cognac for our own lunch, nervously checking the charge on my mobile as time ticked on. Might a suited Sir have had second thoughts? But phew, at 3pm it rang. YESS, IT’s OK! Our new acacia-headed barrel was waiting for us at the loading bay.
The loading bay turned out to be all forklifts, but the guys willingly and expertly manhandled our single, new, plastic-wrapped baby into the back of the truck, carefully making chocks by folding cardboard, that held it steady all the way home, as you can see when we opened up, home at Oatley.
A quick motorway dash for home then, stopping overnight at Saumur on the Loire, we were lucky with the amazing view from our unbooked but serendipitious hotel room on the river near the long ancient bridge. Turned out there was plenty of space on the, yes, you’ve guessed, unbooked, Caen ferry. Hey, success! And it WAS an adventure.
So then it was over to winemaker Steve at Bagborough, Shepton Mallet, (above, when we took the barrel up a couple of days later) and now the barrel’s full of our finished-fermenting-but-still-milky Madeleine Angevine 2016. It’ll mature on the lees till bottling time in spring, and we’ll take blending decisions then. It seems a lot of other English vineyards are interested in the results.
Since then we’ve sloped off for a proper holiday in lovely Porto, learned a bit about port, enjoyed the sun and the Douro and missed an Oatley flash flood in Storm Angus. Thanks to the girls at home for all the clearing up and sweeping that entailed!
And now home for the Christmas run up.
Oh and our winter newsletter is out, click here >>
For Christmas supplies and gift ideas from us at Oatley Vineyard, Cannington:
Our Christmas Cases here>>. You can order your Christmas Oatley dry whites online up until 21st Dec or buy at the vineyard on Sat 10th and Sat 17th Dec.
Oatley Visit vouchers include bottles for your recipient to choose and take home – experiential presents that people seem to enjoy here>>.
Build your own trio of Oatley Wines here>>
Compliments of the festive season!
Jane Awty, winegrower,
Oatley Vineyard, Cannington, Somerset TA5 2NL