The quiet period of the year from September to October is one we all look forward to, the winery winds down to an even and normal pace and pruning is done for the most part. This is however the busiest time of the year with regards quality assessment, benchmarking and planning for the following vintage. One of the most crucial parts of the planning process is cooperage, not least of all because it is such a crucial and often distinctive part of the wines that we make, but also because it is there is a limited window of time to ensure we get the barrels we want, not just the ones we can get.

Each wine for each client at Naturaliste Vintners has it’s own unique and individual oak profile. These profiles have been developed over many years, each an evolved version of the last. The factors driving this constant change and evolution within each profile range from changes in wine style, changes in client and customer preference, variations in seasons, and overall regional trends to name a few. However, the primary driving force behind these changes and the resultant oak profile for each wine is constant sensory assessment by the winemaking team at every step of the process. This time of year is of particular importance, not only because it is when we start to talk about the oncoming season, it is also when the process of integration (the marriage of fruit and oak) finally starts to take form and gives us a small glimpse into what we will be have to put into bottle and enjoy for years to come.

It is now that we start to ‘fine-tune’ the oak profiles based on what we see is working and what we thinks is not. It is often as small a change as selecting more LL toast as opposed to LM or ML. These changes often seem small, and they are, the changes they make are fine, but when striving for greatness in wine it is these small changes and the precision with which we can ‘construct’ our wines and blends that gets us that much closer to our goal.

Over the next month or two we will start to develop winemaking models and the associated cooperage models with each of our clients. It is important that once the models have been confirmed and the matching cooperage models sent out that the barrels are ordered timeously. Often coopers will only make barrels based on confirmed orders, and their remaining stock barrels are mostly of a certain type, which are often not the type we want. It is thus critical in ensuring that each wine is matured and comprised of the exact barrels we want, that barrels are ordered in good time.

Most coopers will send oak over in two or three waves. In order to manage the substantial cost of oak, it is often a good strategy to order barrel for Chardonnay and other oaked white wines first, followed by oak for red wines a month later.

We look forward to catch up with all of our clients over the next few months and discussing what promises to be yet another great season.