I’ve had a thing about barrels ever since I learned that my great-great grandfather from Norway was a cooper (barrel maker) in the mid 1800’s. His barrels didn’t hold Norwegian wine but rather herring. However, his career was cut short when the bottom fell out of the barrel market, so to speak. The culprit was the tin can. Why not put little smelly fish into little mass produced tin cans instead of cumbersome hand hewn barrels? It was time for great-great grandpa to come to America . . .and that’s a whole other story.
Back to barrels. I grew up in the 60’s with the soundtrack of WNAX radio playing in our farmhouse kitchen every morning. While my father, Juel, made me scrambled eggs, the rousing song “Roll Out the Barrel” would often be playing from the transistor radio on the top of the fridge. If you want this tune to get stuck in your head, check out the video below.
Back to barrels. My most memorable tour in the Napa Valley was not one of the many wineries I have had the pleasure of visiting, but rather a special tour of the Demptos Cooperage just around the corner from our winery in south Napa.
I knew the importance of these beautiful vessels to the first couple years of life of our Jessup Cellars wines, but I never truly appreciated our barrels until that day. It was a sensory overload experience as I saw and heard the precision cutting of the three-year-old dried timbers, felt the heat from the open fires, smelled the fresh toast on each barrel, and later, tasted our wines with a new appreciation.
Among those called artists in the Napa Valley, artists who craft with grapes, food, camera, or paintbrush, I now include those who work with wood and fire and are called coopers.
Check out some of my photos from the tour.
The coopers are skilled craftsmen who take pride in each barrel.
Each of these barrels is sitting on top of an open fire that is tended very carefully until the barrel reaches its custom toast level.
Jessup Cellars custom orders a light, medium, or heavy toast depending on the amount of oak we want our wine to be exposed to.
This one is done roasting and toasting! Cheers!