From the Cellar: Three Sticks Barrel Program
This Spring, Bob Cabral and Ryan Prichard took a field trip to France to visit with some of the barrel coopers where we source the barrels for Three Sticks wines. (It's a tough job, but somebody had to do it!) So we thought this was a great time to talk about the role these barrels play in the winemaking process.
First: here's a quick video of Bob in France talking about the importance of our barrel program:
And now ... why this is so important. Élevage — the progression of wine between fermentation and bottling— is crucial in the winemaking process. This is the period of patience, when a wine truly transforms in barrel, developing layers of texture and subtlety, while also losing some of the rough edges of youth. The barrel is an integral part of this process. We like to say that choosing a barrel is akin to opening up your spice rack at home and deciding what you are going to season your meal with.
Oak forests used for barrel making are found throughout the world; but the majority of oak comes from the US and France. The oak sourced from these regions is prized for specific attributes that impart different notes in the finished wine. For our Three Sticks Pinot Noir we choose French oak for its fine grain and delicate flavor profile.
We work with a variety of coopers that source from different forests around France. Even the individual forests have their own flavor attributes! Once the tree is felled and brought in to the mill, it is then seasoned for three years in the outdoor elements before being made into a barrel.
The stave wood will then go through a few steps to tailor the stave length, clean the wood, etc. before toasting. Coopers offer a selection of toasts and even the option of toasting the heads (top and bottom) of the barrels.
Their toast selections range from light to medium to heavy; they call these "house toasts." Each cooper has its own proprietary methods for toasting, an industry standard does not exist.
We have ventured into a collaborative effort with Tonnelliere O in order to take our winemaking efforts one step further by custom toasting barrels for our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
As of the 2015 vintage we began custom toasting barrels with Tonolliere O's master cooper Quinn Roberts. Now that the '15 vintage has been in barrel for a few months we sat down with Quinn again to see how we can further develop a Three Stick's toast protocol for this upcoming vintage.
While abroad, Bob and Ryan spoke further with Quinn and our French producers to narrow down which forests we will source from in the future.
This is an ongoing project that we are sure to learn from from vintage to vintage. We hope this helps to further accentuate our diverse and truly unique vineyard sites within the Three Sticks portfolio!