The Carriage House Cooperage
Several weeks ago we had the pleasure of visiting Prince Edward County (a well known wine region in Eastern Ontario) with friends. As part of our day we visited The Carriage House Cooperage—a cooper is a craftsman who makes wine barrels in the traditional way, which is to say, by hand. Pete the cooper was a really kind man who gladly answered our many, many questions, mostly resulting from our amazement that he produces one barrel per day using a manner taught to him by a master tradesman, of which there are only a handful left in North America. Each barrel is made using a specific wood species, but most typically white oak or ash. The cooper traditionally works with wine makers to develop a particular barrel best suited to their wine, from the nuances and tastes of each wood, to the delicate flavours accentuated by 'toasting' the barrels. Toasting is a quintessential part of the process for two reasons: one, depending on the level of toast (there are 8) the wood will be particularly flavoured, which will affect the wine, and two, heating the wood liquifies the resins allowing the cooper to bend the thick staves into shape. Most impressive, however, was the fact that each cooper has their own style or design, which is part of their thesis. The mold takes years and years to develop, and after it is perfected, the basis of their entire craft. Pete told us he has three templates made, one stored in a bank vault!
PHOTOGRAPHED by Jonathan MacKay