Vol 10: The Art of Oak Aging | Our Cooperages
“Everything can affect the outcome of the wine. From a medium or high toasted barrel, all these nuances come into play. You may have more spices coming out, more smokiness, more leather or tobacco. But, ultimately, it’s about the purity of what the cooperage has to offer us,“
~ Yannick Girardo, General Manager
The Journal | Vol. 10
Is there a secret to making great wine? At Seven Apart, we believe that greatness can only be achieved by doing each step in the winemaking process to the best of our abilities. That’s why we’ve appointed world-renowned winemaker Andy Erickson at the helm of our cellar. To achieve our aspirations, we work with the finest vines growing along Atlas Peak – one of Napa Valley’s rising star appellations. And we have forged trusted relationships with our French coopers – the talented craftsmen who hand make each wine barrel we use.
What is a Cooper?
A tonnelier, or cooper, is a true craftsman. Traditional coopers’ skills hark back to Colonial times when they would make wooden casks, barrels, and other staved containers from timber that was usually heated or steamed to be fashioned accordingly. Today, the practice lives on for the preparation of oak barrels used for fermenting and aging high-quality wines or spirits.
Traditionally, it can take up to seven years for an apprentice to learn the craft of coopering, with apprentices often sleeping in the workshop – called a cooperage. Here, they would learn the tricks of the trade from the master craftsmen. Highly skilled coopers were frequently linked, by blood or marriage, with brewers, taverns, and wine merchants.
A cooper’s occupation required them to make barrels on demand and deliver them to clients. Barrels and casks were necessary to store goods such as ale, wine, flour, gunpowder, and tobacco. A cooper’s work has to be perfect, as the containers must be made of quality wood, remain free of defects, and be durable and watertight for a long time. This age-old tradition is still revered and relevant to this day.
To make just one barrel, a cooper needs to begin with a superior wood: oak. Oak is strong and helps improve the quality and flavor of the wine inside. Winemakers have found that oak can make wine softer yet give it more complexity and depth. Wine barrels are made from long strips of wood, called staves, that are attached to a metal hoop and bent using fire and a tightening contraption. One of the key steps is ‘toasting’ the inside of the barrel. This step has a significant impact on the flavor of the wine stored in the barrel and can be predetermined by the winemaker. More singeing will result in a richer, smokey flavor. The entire complex process requires patience and meticulous attention to detail.
Not all Barrels are Equal
Coopers practice an arduous art form and barrels come with a high price point. They range in price from $900 up to $2,000 each depending on if it is made from American Oak or French Oak. While countries like the US, Czech Republic, and even Hungary make barrels, France remains the world’s leading producer.
Every cooperage will have its own ‘house style’. Things like the grain on the wood, the aging of the staves outdoors, and even the particular tree used will impact the final barrel. While all French cooperages will use oak grown in a French forest, the resulting barrel from your selected cooper may give you a very different result from the cooperage right next door.
We have worked hard at Seven Apart to establish a relationship with eight trusted cooperages that we can return to each vintage. We may use different barrels from different cooperages depending on the style of wine our winemaker Andy Erickson wants to achieve.
A Refined Recipe
Seven Apart sources barrels from Atelier Center. Bel Air. Berger & Fils. Darnajou. Ermitage. Orion. Sylvain. Taransaud cooperages.
“For us, selecting the right barrels is an integral part of our winemaking process, and it’s why Andy is so valuable to have on board,” opens Seven Apart General Manager Yannick Girardo.
Andy has crafted an illustrious career since arriving in Napa Valley in 1994. Over the years, he has worked with celebrated properties such as Harlan Estate, Staglin Family Vineyards, and Screaming Eagle. With over 25 years of experience in the industry, Erickson places a lot of time selecting Seven Apart’s barrels. Yannick likens Andy’s process to perfecting a recipe:
“Andy says that he likes the barrels from all of our coopers, but for different reasons. Some will add a toasty, mocha character to the wine. Some will give structure and spice, while others will bring fruit forward and add a framework to the wine. When you blend it all back together, it adds layers and complexity to the wine.”
A Mutual Understanding
Typically, to establish a relationship with your selected cooperage, the cooper will travel to your winery to meet with your winemaker and understand the impact of their oak on your wine.
“The goal is to meet about once a year. The cooper wants to understand the process of what you’re doing to give you the best results,” adds Yannick. “You also have the opportunity to visit the cooperage in France to see how things work. You can become so exclusive that you can select your oak in advance!”
According to Yannick, the relationship between cooperage and winery requires a mutual conversation and understanding about what one is trying to accomplish.
“Everything can affect the outcome of the wine. From a medium or high toasted barrel, all these nuances come into play. You may have more spices coming out, more smokiness, more leather or tobacco. But, ultimately, it’s about the purity of what the cooperage has to offer us,” he ends.
While the barrel may seem like just one part of the puzzle, it is an integral piece of the larger picture we are trying to accomplish for Seven Apart. A picture, that when complete, is a masterpiece.
Vol 8: One Thousand Perfect Decisions | Seven Apart Winemaking Philosophy
“My wine philosophy is my life philosophy. Everything matters.”
~ Don Dady, Seven Apart Founder
The Journal | Vol. 8
Consistently great wine never happens by accident. Fine winemaking is an intricate craft made with intention, solid technical know-how, unwavering dedication, and, of course, some good fortune.
Since Seven Apart’s inception in 2018, founder Don Dady has had a crystal-clear vision of the winery’s winemaking philosophy. Undoubtedly, this steadfast vision has helped catalyze Seven Apart’s stellar reputation as a leading Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon producer. Throughout the complex process of winemaking, Don has always been confident that a serious approach would set his wine apart. “Winemaking is a thousand different decisions’, explains Don. “If you make a thousand good decisions, and Mother Nature cooperates, you end up making a world-class wine.”
“My wine philosophy is my life philosophy. Everything matters,” Don opens. “Your brand is a sum of all your impressions, and so everything you do has an impact.”
Beyond merely good, Don strives for perfection. That’s why the Seven Apart team is instructed to manage every facet of the vineyard meticulously. From seasonal viticultural practices to deciding on the opportune time to start harvest, every decision ultimately strengthens the Seven Apart’s value chain. This is of the utmost importance to Don’s philosophy on winemaking.
“The reality is that if you do everything to the best of your abilities, only then do you have a chance of making great wine,” he affirms.
Savor The Moment
Don has always appreciated wine’s elegantly transformative nature. He says he treasures its extraordinary ability to slow down a moment, taking the speed and noise of our daily life and casting it away as you focus on what the wine has to say in the glass in front of you.
“When I have an amazing glass of wine, the world stops for a second. I sit back and appreciate the sensorial experience. The aromas, the flavors, and the overall complexity”. In a world where time is a precious commodity, Don regards this as a rare gift. “I savor the moment after my initial sip and enjoy the layers of the wine unfold,” he emphasizes. “It tells a story, but you have to listen carefully.”
It’s clear to see that with this mindset, Don’s purpose is to bring this feeling to everyone who drinks Seven Apart wine. “From the moment I found Stags Ridge Vineyard, I saw an opportunity to grow something special out there,” he says.
A High Level Of Involvement
Seven Apart has built its brand on a foundation of care and passion for wine. For Don, a vital aspect of these pillars is attention to detail – whether or not nature is in their favor that season. It imbues the act of winemaking with so much more meaning and joy. “At the end of the day, if you’re going to pour your heart and soul into something, you need to care about it all.”
Don is not one to shy away from failure either. He approaches both daily life and winemaking with a mantra of ‘no regrets.’ For him, putting his heart into his passion is worth the risk. “I’m okay failing if I’ve given my all. What I’m not okay with is failing if I didn’t do my best.”
The Seven Apart team has worked tirelessly on refining their winemaking skills to tailor their offering for their clients. To do this, they focus on building trusted relationships with a small group of experienced artisanal cooperages, always making sure that there is an affinity between their taste and vision.
The winery aims to reflect the story of the vineyard through all it produces. Seven Apart’s Stags Vineyard is a sizable ten acres, with eight of those planted. Within the terroir is a range of microclimates and varied soil structures, all of which impact the outcome of the fruit characteristics and bring forth diverse and complex wines.
As Cabernet Sauvignon specialists, a high level of involvement goes into producing their wines. Tastings of the same wine can sometimes happen over four times until the desired standard of perfection is achieved, with every note harmonized and balanced. Don credits his team for their expertise and understanding of wine, saying:
“While I love tasting the wine, and as much as I might think I influence the outcome, the truth is that my world-class winemaking team led by Andy Erickson makes the key decisions. They are light years ahead of me, and that’s exactly why I’m so pleased to have them crafting Seven Apart. It takes a village.”
In The Pursuit Of Perfection
Seven Apart currently produces four distinct Cabernet Sauvignons: The Seven Apart Expedition, Seven Apart Shale, Seven Apart Basalt, and Seven Apart Summit. Each one has a distinctive flavor profile that wine lovers will effortlessly pick up on. The Seven Apart Shale, Seven Apart Basalt, and Seven Apart Summit are all single vineyard wines. While some may think it is redundant to create three types of Cabernet Sauvignon from one vineyard, Don believes that the ability to utilize every aspect of the vineyard’s potential is what makes Seven Apart so remarkable:
“It is so interesting to see how the vineyard itself undergoes different expressions and evolves. You can take the same rootstock, the same year, the same vineyard manager, and even the same winemaker, but you’ll receive three different expressions of wine. Each vineyard is like a person with a unique character.” Don ends: “For me, the motivation was always about trying to make absolutely the best wines we could make. We’ve been passionate about everything we could do to make sure the vineyard was in the best shape it could be.”
One thing is clear, with this sophisticated mixture of passion and purpose in the pursuit of perfection, Seven Apart’s winemaking philosophy will stand the test of time.