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French Oak Wine Barrels

Critical to the taste and quality of a great red wine is the quality of the barrel in which it is aged.  Wine barrels are made of French, Hungarian or American oak.  A tree’s geographical and botanical origins are important.  French oak is thought by many to be the finest, although that conclusion is challenged by many vintners who believe that excellent wines can be aged in oak barrels of many different provenances.

French oak is chosen from the old growth forests in the center of France—fully grown Haute Futaie trees, 150 to 200 years old.  In the forests of Allier, Troncais, Nevers and Vosges the thin, sandy, poor soil results in slow and regular growth, which gives dense, tight grain rich in aromatic components and noble tannins. The grain’s texture is essential, as that will balance the air exchange between the wine and the outside atmosphere. 

A cooperage selects oak trees in the fall season.  Solid relations based on trust with the foresters and the agents from the O.N.F, or the Office National des Forêts (National Forestry Office) are important in order to find and select only the best trees.  Wood buyers work several years in advance—selecting the very best wood in the auctions organized by the O.N.F. and bidding for sufficient volumes to supply oak staves that will age for several years before being coopered.

The O.N.F. was set up in 1966, following from the “Maîtres des Eaux et Forêts” founded in 1291. The Haute Futaie principle of forestry management was revised in 1669 and 1789, to provide a constant and sustainable supply of quality timber.

Haute Futaie oak has a fine and regular grain, which only comes from slow growth of straight, tall trees. The clear wood, with no irregularities, offers high-quality aromatics and strong fibers.

The O.N.F. is also PEFC-certified.  PEFC is a system of certification for sustainable forest management, and is based on the setting up of a controlled chain from the cutting down of the trees onwards. It enables the certified wood to be identified and traced throughout all stages of its transformation in barrels.

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