Meet the fourth-generation cooper of Seguin Moreau Cooperage who makes beautiful wine barrels the traditional French way.
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As early as 5:30 a.m., you can find Douglas Rennie at work, using smoke and fire to craft wooden barrels for Napa Valley wineries, as he has for more than 20 years.
He describes the workspace at Seguin Moreau—one of only a few Napa Valley cooperages—as a fast-paced beehive. It takes about three hours to make one barrel, yet that barrel moves every four minutes through various stages, requiring close monitoring. “It seems like it’s out of control, but everything is very controlled,” he says.
The most crucial step is toasting the inside of the barrel on the fire, which creates a skin between the wine and the raw wood that softens the wood’s affect. The amount of toasting time directly impacts the flavor profile of the wine aged within the barrel. Rennie compares the aroma of a light toast to baked bread, while medium is more like vanilla, and darker toasts bring to mind honey, chocolate or coffee.
The type of wood, such as French, American or Russian oak, is another factor that influences the wine’s taste. Rennie is partial to the sweet, banana-like smell that emanates from Russian oak and which, he says, pairs well with some merlots.The type of wood, such as French, American or Russian oak, is another factor that influences the wine’s taste. Rennie is partial to the sweet, banana-like smell that emanates from Russian oak and which, he says, pairs well with some merlots.
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