Friday, August 14, 2009

Backing- End trim - Hollowing ("Dolage-Ecourtage-Evidage")

Today we are working up the staves we received several weeks ago. For you Francophiles I have included the French term for each step in the process (but really you should get a life).
All of our equipment is designed to run random width staves and staves that have some curve in them. It is more important to follow the grain than to make straight staves.

At each step in the process the staves are graded and any stave not meeting our specification is rejected.

Backing (“Dolage”): Planning the exterior of the stave round to match the outside circumference of a barrel. Each Cooperage does things a little different. We chose to do this step first, so that any defects are more visible and, if possible, can be cut out in the end trimming. Some cooperages will do the end trimming as the first step.

End Trimming (“Ecourtage”): The staves are cut to the length of the barrel. All the trimmed off sections of the staves are saved and used in the fires for bending and toasting of the barrels.

Hollowing (“L’evidage”): Planning the interior of the stave round to match the inside circumference of a barrel. A section at each end of the stave is left un-planned. This is where the grove for the head will be cut. This area includes; the chamfer (“Chanfrein”) the angle cut from the end of the barrel, the croze (“Jable”) the grove the head will fit into and the howells (“Pas d asse”) a rounded out section from the end of the chamfer extending past the croze. More on this when get to that process.

Staves waiting for the Jointer, the next step.

Monday, August 10, 2009

French Oak Stave Wood

French Oak Terroir

Received a shipment of wood from our French stave supplier last week. Our stave supplier keeps all of the forest separate for us. We make barrels from six different French forest Nevers, Bertranges, Vosges, Chatillon, Fontainebleau and Center of France. Each forest has it’s own “Terrior”; location, soils, aspects and micro-climate that produces slightly different flavor profiles for the barrels made form these forest.

Both Chatillon and Fontainebleau are new forest for us in 2009.

The Chatillon Forest is located in the Cote d’Or department near the town of Chatillon-sur-Seine between Troyes and Dijon. The oak trees in the Chatillon forest struggle due to the poor, rocky, limestone and chalk soils. Barrels from the Chatillon forest are traditionally used in burgundy. Typical characteristics are mineral, vanilla, spice and tobacco.

The Fontainebleau forest in located in the Seine et Marne department, southeast of Paris near the city of Fontainebleau. The oak trees grow tall and uniformly, in deep sandy, silt soils. Resulting in even, tight grain with little variation in color. Typical characteristics are coffee, licorice, spice and leather.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cooperage Alive in Oregon.

I found a disturbing article in the UK Telegraph about the last master cooper in England, Mr. Alastair Simms. You have to like that name.
Here is a link to view the article

Mr. Simms states in the article “Coopering is not just a dying trade it’s already dead”
This may be true in England, but I am happy to say that, at least in Oregon, quite the contrary is true.
Although Oregon Barrel Works lacks a formal apprentice program, as did the cooperages I worked for in France, I have been coopering barrels for the past seventeen years, I have trained a cooper who has worked for me for the past eight years and I own a cooperage. Thus, in most programs this would qualify me for the title of Master Cooper.

I currently employ five coopers. One of which is Jorge Nieto who has completed his required four-and-half year apprenticeship and earned the tile of Journeyman Cooper. He is currently training our apprentice coopers. Upon his apprentice’s competition of their training Jorge will be awarded and elevated to the title of Master Cooper. Jorge has worked at Oregon Barrel Works for the past eight years. Some would say that he is the glue that holds it all together, but coopers don’t use glue.

Jorge burning the bung hole of some freshly toasted barrels

We have four Coopers working as apprentice. One has completed three years of the required four-and-half years, two are in the middle of their second year and the fourth one is a little over a year in the program. I am excited about all of these guys, we have a great bunch of coopers in training.

Oregon Barrel Works is unique in that unlike most modern cooperages we strongly believe in the art of the cooper. Yes, we do use modern equipment (this may depend on you definition of “modern” seeing that we have some equipment that dates back over 50 years) and yes this does make the job(s) easer. But every cooper that works for me can do, and is required to do, every job in the cooperage. They are not machine operators; they must know the whole process from start to finish.
So to Mr. Alastair Simms I say, “Go west young man”. Bring your hammer and hoopdriver; we light the fires at 6:30 am. And I am assuming that since you are English and work for a brewery you will join us for a pint at the end of the day, although we drink our beer cold.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Here’s the Idea- A behind the scenes look at the production of barrels here at Oregon Barrel Works. First some background. Oregon Barrel Works is a small cooperage located in McMinnville, Oregon. We build barrels mainly for the wine industry using both French and Oregon oak. Our production is small, under 1000 barrels per year, and each barrel is handcrafted and tailor made for each winery.

Wine barrel being toasted

More later