We work exclusively with Bernard Gauthier. This highly respected stave-wood maker supplies us with one-hundred-year-old oak from France’s Central Loire region, the finest in the world.
" Crafting a fine barrel is about respecting the wood and, of course, the wine. It also involves a series of steps, each very important to the manufacturing process. Learn about the traditional processes used by La Fabrique Eric Millard. "
Selection of the wood
36 months’ seasoning
After cutting, all our wood dries out in the open air for a minimum of 36 months . This seasoning enables it to give of its best once it becomes a barrel.
‘Écourtage’ & ‘dolage’.
This is carried out on the sides of the staves to create an arrow shaped bevelling. This allows us to create the the barrel shape with its lower ends (heads) and central portion (bilge).
Ce travail s’effectue sur les côtés (joints) de la douelle pour lui donner une forme de flèche. Cela va permettre de donner la forme au fût avec sa partie base (la tête), et la partie centrale (le bouge).
Assembly of the barrel
This consists of bringing all the staves together (around thirty) to assemble the barrel. This is a tricky operation because only the pressure of the iron hoops holds the staves together. At this stage, the barrel resembles an open cone.
This short heating (around 10 minutes), coming after a 20-minute pre-toasting over a low fire, enables us to fit the hoops over the barrel.
All the staves are made to fit flushly together with the help of a hammer and chisel, resulting in a perfectly smooth, rounded shell.
‘Recuisson’ or toasting
This is one of the most crucial steps: a slow toasting of the inside of the barrel over a low fire will onlock all the aromatic compounds in the oak. La Fabrique Eric Millard has developed its own innovative processes to enable the best possible interaction between the wine and the barrel. In the summer months, we work early in the morning, when it is cooler, to keep temperatures at a reasonable level, which is better for the wood.
Trimming & ‘fonçage’
The trimming consists of machining the ends of the barrel to create the chamfer and chime, where the heads will be inserted. For the ‘fonçage’, the barrel shell is loosened to allow the head to be inserted inside the chime. Once the head is in place, the mounting hoop is tightened again with the help of a hammer and chisel (a process known as ’enjablage’).
The barrel is installed on a special cooperage sanding lathe and sanded to remove any remaining dirt or faults in the wood.
The galvanized hoops are fitted around the barrel ensuring it will hold together perfectly for decades. There are different types of hooping available, including the traditional Burgundy hooping: a combination of black-painted iron hoops and chestnut hoops. The main purpose of the wooden hoops is to protect the barrel from contact with stones and concrete in the cellars. The barrels can also be produced with galvanized iron hoops only.
The marking of the front head of the barrel can be carried out by branding or by laser, which allows for a greater variety of markings, customized to each customer’s requirements.
Boring the bung hole
the stave for the bung hole is selected during the assembly of the barrel. This will be bored then cauterized to the diameter of the bung to be used (42 to 50 mm depending on the customer).
Manufacture of the heads
This step consists of assembling pieces of wood of different lengths. There are three sizes (45 cm, known as ‘chanteaux’, 55 and 60 cm) used. The centrepiece of the head measures 60 cm, then comes the 55 cm piece and, to complete the head, the 45 cm piece (one on each end of the head). For the front head, a 60 cm centrepiece is selected for the boring of the spigot hole at the bottom and the addition of the brand mark at the top.
The working of the head
this operation consists of creating a bevelling around the circumference of the head. This head will then be inserted inside the chime (the ’fonçage’ operation).
Decoration of the barrel
As Eric Millard is also a trained cabinetmaker, he pays particular attention to the decoration of each barrel and customers are offered a wide choice of customization options.