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