French Oak + California Grapes = Magic
Choosing barrels is an endeavor where the winemaker gets to express his own preferences in wines. It's an element of the wine that should enhance the fruit without competing with it. At its best, the wood is a contributor to the fabric of the wine, not even noticeable as a separate element. The variables of wood aging, barrel age, cooper, toast level and forest all have impact on the wood involvement with the wine.
At Dutton-Goldfield we like to work with different barrel types in a given vineyard for important reasons. First, this affords us a palette of nuances with which to craft a final product. Often a combination of different woods brings a subtle complexity to the wine that a single choice would not. Whereas 40% new wood of one type might feel monolithic and overoaked in a wine, the same percentage split between several different types could be unapparent as wood, if chosen well. We also like to see the effect of various barrels on the flavors from a given vineyard in order to continue to hone our choices for the future, and accentuate the individuality of that vineyard. This is one of many advantages to working with the same fruit for a long time.
We currently use barrels from six different French coopers. Coopers may craft barrels from different forests (Allier, Bertranges, Trancais, Vosges are some of the popular ones), with different toast levels and wood aging time, but there is clearly a distinctive style and personality from each house. We perceive more difference in the barrels between several coopers using the same wood than we would with different woods from the same cooper. In many cases, we love second use barrels the best, so will often ferment chardonnay in a barrel to prepare it to be used for our best pinots. Following are some of the coopers we love to work with, all excellent, but contributing differently to our wines.
Francois Frerer: Frankies tend to be high impact -smoke and high tones from the Allier, more meaty, bacony tones to the Bertranges - always sweet in the mouth - an accent barrel for us. We love the Bertranges in the Devil's, and for indigenous chard ferments.
Taransaud: The classy gentleman; every stave is certified as 3-year old wood. Taransauds hold up the bottom of a wine—great for structure, without being obvious, particularly for long aged wines. Wonderful candied caramel elements. All our best wines have a touch of Taransaud (like you'd use olive oil in all your marinades), as it works to weave it all together.
Remond: Great cooper for spice and structure, particularly the Trancais. The Allier barrels offer cinnamon and cardamom tones to the wines.
Seguin Moreau: Their Chassagne Montrachet barrel is a classic chard barrel for us, with its ginger cinnamon tones and elegant structure. You'll always see a bit of S/M's in the Rued, but its high spice tones are also a great accent for the solidly structured McDougall.
Alain Fouquet: Another high impact barrel, with its sweet toffee and brown sugar tone and French vanilla contributions. Used judiciously, this is a great barrel to bring out the creaminess in a wine.