An Ancient Craft
The FINAL STAGE OF THE JOURNEY FROM GRAPE TO GLASS
The harvest at Delaire Graff Estate is complete, and so now it is time for the next stage of the journey – as the “must” or unfermented grape juice is transferred into French oak barrels to mature. Each year, around 150 new barrels are acquired by Delaire Graff Estate, each one a bespoke creation that is overseen by Winemaker, Morné Vrey.
Created by highly skilled coopers, the art of barrel making is an ancient craft, incorporating tools and techniques that have remained unchanged for centuries. Every barrel is a work of art, imbued with experience and devotion, with their creation akin to the transformation of a rough stone into a polished diamond – a process perfected by Graff over the course of its 60-year history.
It all begins in the forests of France. An experienced local team seek out ancient oak trees, which must be both tall and perfectly straight to ensure the finished barrels are free from any imperfections that could result in either warping or leaking. The grain of each oak is identified and selected by hand – this is important as a compact grain is more porous – which means the wine has more connection with the wood during maturation.
“Each forest transfers a unique characteristic from oak to barrel and then wine. We work only with those suppliers who harvest French oaks from sustainably managed and certified sources.”
– Morné Vrey, Winemaker at Delaire Graff Estate
Once a tree has been identified and felled, it is cut into staves – these are the vertical wooden posts used by the cooper to create the barrel. During the cutting process, the purity of the oak and grain are both honoured and respected. The staves are then seasoned in the open air for up to 36 months, benefitting from seasonal fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, which soften the tannins and break down the components in the oak.
When the physical construction of the barrel is complete – an art form in itself – it is toasted using fire and heat to draw out the aromas and flavours of the oak. The toasting provides the barrels with a unique character, imparted by the cooper, using heat levels and methods that vary across the different regions in France.
“We collaborate with between 10 to 15 coopers, many of whom we have worked alongside for a number of years. Our requirements are always bespoke, depending upon the vintage for that particular year. Every cooper is a true master of their craft, as they balance barrel-making strength with nuance and finesse.”
“I am extremely passionate about the barrels we use here at Delaire Graff Estate. Each year, I seek out a new cooper and in this way; we bring a fresh personality and perspective to the process, ensuring we continue to push the boundaries of possibility and perfection.”
Upon arrival at Delaire Graff Estate, each barrel is filled and then left to rest and mature – as the French oak patiently nurtures the wine, imparting its unique character and flavour.