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Bouchard Cooperages: International brokers of fine quality oak wine barrels

Barrel Lore

Vincent Bouchard's Contributions (little known facts & more!)

Enologist Represents Coopers:

1979: Vincent Bouchard started selling barrels in the USA and around the world. This was the first time that a trained enologist and winemaker did any "prospecting" or a survey of the barrel needs of the wine industry outside of France.

Silicone Bung:

1980: Creation of the first silicone bung by Vincent Bouchard. Prior to this in Europe, all barrels were plugged with a burlap cloth wrapped bung exampleunderneath the wooden bung. In the New World, a wooden bung with paraffin or tar was used. The disadvantages of these two methods for sealing the bunghole are the occurrence of leaks, cracked / broken wooden bungs, and oxidation. The silicone bung invented by Vincent Bouchard was called "Bouchard Versilique", made in collaboration with Michel Bouchard, enologist and Rhône-Poulenc Laboratory. They used the same silicone used in heart valve devices. Unfortunately, Vincent Bouchard never patented this invention and it has been widely copied. The versilique bung is reputed to be "indestructible" due to the high percentage of silicone, and is still widely available and used in Europe.


Importance of Charring:

1981 / 1982: First study on the charring process, made by Vincent Bouchard. Vincent was the first to recognize the importance of the charring process. Prior to this, Burgundy and Bordeaux barrels were banded with heat regardless of the source of heat. Heat was simply used to make the wood pliable enough to bend and shape the barrel. One of the sources of heat was an oak fire, while others included steam, warm water and hot air. The coopers fired the barrels according to tradition and the shape of the barrels, and not with the intention of adding a flavor contribution. Vincent Bouchard observed differences between the way that various Burgundy and Bordeaux coopers fired their barrels, and comprehended that this influenced the flavor and aromatic profiles. Additionally, Vincent Bouchard proposed different toast levels or colorations to wineries for each of his coopers (the concept of "light", "medium" and "medium plus" toast). This was the first time this concept of specifically charring barrels to different levels was ever carried out with any cooper.

Forest Origin and Grain Tightness:

1984: Proposition to the CIVB (Centre d'Institute de Vigne en Bourgogne) to compare six (6) French forest origins to study the influence of the grain tightness. The CIVB, headed by Mssr. Nodin, was the first institute to conduct research of the forest origins used in the fabrication of barrels. Some wood suppliers and cooperages were prioritizing grain tightness over wood origin. The studies made by the CIVB were presented by Vincent Bouchard in 1988 at the International Pinot Noir Celebration, with wines made by Bouchard Pere et Fils in Beaune, demonstrating to many attending winemakers that forest origin had a much greater influence on the wine than grain tightness.

Wrapping of Barrels with Protective Shrink Wrap:

1985: Vincent Bouchard was the first to use plastic wrap to protect the barrels from damage during transport and from loosing humidity. Today, several layers of plastic are wrapped around the body of the barrel, with cardboard protecting both heads. Prior to this, barrels were shipped using no protection or completely enclosed in plastic bags that did not permit the barrels to breath through the heads. The consequence of the later was potential mold development on and in the barrel.

Influence of Geography on the Air Dry Process:

1986: Recognized the influence of the geographic and environmental conditions on the air-drying process for the wood. Vincent organized a study with stave wood identical in all ways except the geographical location of the stave yards. These staves were then fabricated into barrels by two different coopers, using 50% of each others wood (i.e. after the seasoning process, they exchanged a portion of each other's wood). An identical wine was aged in each of the four sets of ten barrels. The result was four distinctly different wines.

Hungarian Oak Comparative Use with Bordeaux Varietals:

1994: Vincent Bouchard did the first comparative tasting and presentation in the USA of French Bordeaux varietals aged in Hungarian and French oak barrels with the following factors constant:

  • all wood was hand split and air dried in the same place for the same amount of time
  • made by the same cooper using the same charring technique and an identical medium toast level
  • the Hungarian oak was divided into two barrel sets of tight vs. medium grained wood
  • three different French forest origins were used for the comparison with Hungarian oak: Tronçais, Allier and Nevers

Results of comparative tasting: the Hungarian oak barrels are softer in tannin than their French counterparts, which is beneficial for certain wines.

American Oak Experimentation:

1995: Vincent Bouchard was able to once again demonstrate the influence of geographic and environmental conditions on the air drying process of the wood. A selection of American oak (Quercus alba) was air-dried both at a Missouri stave mill and in a stave yard in Cognac. After the two years of air-drying, both sets of staves were then made into barrels by the same cooper, using identical fabrication methods. The same base wine was aged for 18 months under identical circumstances in both sets of barrels. The result was two distinctly different wines, primarily due to the different microflora and rainfall patterns existing in Missouri and Cognac. The wood seasoned in Cognac was greatly preferred.

Application of Charring Theory:

1996: Charring experimentation: direct application of Vincent's charring theory with the new Cadus cooperage. Vincent theorized that the more you toast or char a barrel, the lower the level of astringency. However, this depends on the penetration of the heat in the barrel stave and whether it is well-seasoned wood.

  • a light char would still give a tannic or astringent character
  • a medium, deep toast normally offers a creamy, smooth flavor throughout the life of the barrel (three to four cycles of white wine)
  • a heavy toast starts to offer some smoky characteristics

This theory was put into practical application in the development of Cadus' toasting recipe.

Other Items:

1998: Vincent Bouchard was named one of the 50 most influential people in the wine business by Wines and Vines magazine, a publication widely read by the wine industry in the USA.

2004: Vincent Bouchard celebrated 25 years of working around the world within the wine barrel industry.

Note: As a winemaker by training and education, Vincent Bouchard continues to produce wine. Currently, he produces over 4,000 cases of wine and port per year at Quinta do Tedo, his own winery in Portugal.


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