The Oeneo Group
If you want to be exact, the world’s biggest cooper brand, for barrels from French oak, is Seguin Moreau. There are bigger barrel makers, e.g. making barrels for bourbon. We recently had the opportunity to visit Seguin Moreau at their headquarters just outside the small town of Cognac and will have the occasion to come back on this subject later. (We are hearing rumours about a “revolutionary” new innovation in oak barrel quality control to be launched early next year…) But we wanted to give you a few short facts about the cooper and cooperage already now.
Seguin Moreau is part of the group Oeneo, quoted on the French stock exchange. Oeneo also owns another barrel maker, Radoux, and a cork producer called Diams (perhaps better known under its previous name Sabaté, which they have changed perhaps due to an innovative process they originated that eliminates TCA in cork).
The two coopers, Seguin Moreau and Radoux, operate quite independently, even if they are part of the same group. They even seem to compete quite ferociously against each other sometimes.
Technology and quality
Seguin Moreau considers itself to be a pioneer in terms of technical innovation and quality control for barrel making. they were one of the first to stop specifying the origin of the oak of the barrels. Traditionally it is often specified from which forest the oak comes in a barrel. For example: the Vosges, the Alliers, or Limousin. Seguin Moreau says that what’s important is not the origin but the quality of the oak (mainly the porosity, or the ‘grain’). And the quality varies very much for the same forest. Therefore they have stopped naming the origin and instead they give a quality indication of the wood.
This is, by the way, also something that Radoux started doing some time back.
Around 550,000 barrels – normally measuring 225 or 228 litres – are made each year in France, out of 800,000 in the world (wine barrels). Seguin Moreau makes around 75,000 barrels (barriques, pièces) per year.
A barrel costs around 600 euro. In other words, if a winemaker uses 100% new barrels every year it represents a cost of around 2 euro per bottle. The cost of the wood for one barrel is around 300 euro. Only one quarter of the wood from a trunk of an oak tree, cut down and cleaned, can be used to make a barrel.
We had the occasion recently to taste a selection of wines that had “seen” wood in different ways. The most remarkable comparison was between two glasses of white wine: the original wine, or rather the original must was the same. One had been fermented in big wooden oak vats and the other had been fermented in stainless steel. After the (relatively short) fermentation they had been aged in an identical way. The only difference was the material in the fermentation vat. The difference was remarkable. We will be coming back to this issue at a later time.
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