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Wine for Normal People

All About Oak Barrels with Craig Holme of Tonnellerie Radoux

Wine for Normal People
Wine for Normal People

This week's show is about the essential art of cooperage, or barrel making. Aussie winemaker and current US National Sales Manager for Tonnellerie Radoux, Craig Holme, takes us through how barrels are made, from forest to cellar. We discuss sustainability (Hint: the issue isn't the barrels or the trees, it's the fact that they come on container ships fully assembled, as winemakers order. Hello, carbon footprint!), how different regions look at barrels, and how barrels are a very personal thing to a winemaker. A cool look inside of an essential part of wine!

Thanks to the Patrons for their insightful questions that augmented the show! To join Patreon, click here.

Here are the show notes:

1. Craig tells us briefly about his early life in Mount Benson, South Australia where his family farmed Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. He discusses how he worked in the wine industry, working harvests around the world, and then becoming a winemaker himself. For 10 years, Craig and his wife owned a small wine brand, called Holme Estate Cellars, which specialized in Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz sourced from their family vineyards in Australia. They also bought Zinfandel and Chardonnay from California. He moved into barrels about 10 years ago.

2. We discuss the process of barrel making:

  • Forests -- Troncais, Limousin, Atelier, and American and Hungarian wood
  • The age and requirements for a tree to make barrels (only 2-3 barrels come out of each tree. You read that right). We discuss the French laws and a bit about forestry management
  • Radoux's proprietary tannin scanning method -- Oakscan
  • Splitting wood
  • Seasoning wood -- what it accomplishes, where it's done, the terroir of seasoning
  • Toasting oak -- the process, toast levels available, how toasting is done, and the most popular toasts

Radoux's wood, fresh from the forest

3. We discuss the size and shape of the barrel and why it matters (Bordeaux is 225L, Burgundy is 228 L, we explain why they are different and the other common options for barrel size)

One of Radoux's yard for seasoning the staves

4. I become just slightly obsessed with the elephant in the room -- It is completely wasteful for barrels to be assembled in France or Missouri or Eastern Europe and shipped to California, Washington, etc. It's not the fault of the barrel makers, but the expectations of the winemakers. Craig tells us where winemakers are about shipping air thousands of miles, and wasting space in cargo ships, rail and trucks (the coopers are businesses, they are fulfilling orders, it's the winemakers that are mainly at fault here for not demanding assembly close to home).

5. We discuss how winemakers pick barrels and what the choices could lead to in the wine.

Fire shapes and bends the barrels, then toasts them

6. Finally we end with some trends and the fact that oak is awesome, and it's an essential part of wine.

Thanks to Radoux and Craig Holme for joining the show!

All photos from https://www.tonnellerieradoux.com/


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