THE BARREL IS 2000 YEARS OLD
The Cavin Cooperage’s story is closely related to a very old craft industry.
The invention of the barrel dates back from the dawn of time : it was never dated with certainty. However, from as early as the first century, oak casks enabled wine to exist as we know it.
Our savoir-faire was born from this ancestral tradition that nothing could outshine. Here, we present you with the main lines of our our artistic craft, and the way in which the Cavin Cooperage inserted itself in it.
Because without barrels, there is no wine…
At least no natural wine : before wooden casks, the fermented grape juice was stored in airtight amphoras where honey and spices were added.
This way, the content would not turn into vinegar right away. It was the “Roman wine”, which has disappeared since then, after having been transformed by our the Gallic techniques...
Aging the wine in amphoras was very different
As an example, here’s what the historian Marcel Lachiver writes in his book Vins, Vignes et Vignerons :
If (the Roman wines) came back on our tables nowadays, they would upset our palate, and we would loath to diluate them in water to be able to swallow them; and the falerne, despite being a famous wine, would appear as a mixture not worthy of our tables.
The invention of the oak barrel
The Gauls were a gathering of Celtic people whose civilisation revolved around wood and the forest in general. On the contrary, the Roman Empire bore the heritage of mediterranean cultures where oak was absent due to the warm dry climate.
The Gauls therefore had privileged access to exceptional raw materials and they started to make oak barrels from very early on in order to transport their favorite foods and drinks: beer and *cervoise*, among other things. This explains why the etymology of the word “tonneau”, which is the common French term for “barrel”, sends us back to a Celtic root rather than a Latin one.
Discovery of the “oenological” barrel
Through the Romans, the Gauls discovered a passion for wine and started to import it from Italy. In spite of the restrictions that Rome imposed concerning the plantation rights, vineyards started flourishing across the Gaul.
From the 1st century onwards, wine growers from the North-East quarter of France started to make wine with oak barrels. Beginning as a mere container, the barrel became a fundamental tool in oenology. The natural wine it led to produce eventually supplanted Roman winemaking: in just a few centuries, the amphoras and their syrupy contents had disappeared. The vineyards from median and septentrional France took over the ones from Italy, in terms of craftmanship quality and reputation.
Wooden barrels enable the production of a natural and local wine
The barrel was not only an advance in terms of transport; solid, easy to roll, to pile up, etc. It also allowed Gauls to make wine with simplicity, without having to import spices: the grapes were the only necessary ingredient. Contrary to the amphora, the barrel could be taken apart and renovated, in the case of any breakages or leaks. It was easily cleanable, guaranteeing a better hygiene and its size improved the fermentations.
Once they were no longer usable, the barrels were recycled: they were reused to reinforce the walls of wells, for example. 2000 year old wood hoopings have been uncovered in this way, proving that oak was already being used by these ancient coopers. However, up until the 3rd century, conifers have also been employed, but this type of essence has since disappeared, at the same time as amphoras.
At the end, the barrel spread all over the world and has maintained it inescapable status across the centuries. Each time a region started to produce high quality wines, new and clean oak barrels were present in the shade of the cellars.
The oak barrel: an unbeatable technology
The oak cask imposed itself in customs, to the point of defining the capacity of ships, that we still measure in “tonnage” nowadays, which corresponds to the French word “tonneau” aforementioned. By an odd turn of events, the earthly Gauls marked the sea world.
However, in the second half of the 20th century, the sirens of modernity tried to mark the end of the barrel era. In the 60-70’s, numerous people thought that vats made of resin, stainless steel or concrete would replace the two-thousand-year-old wooden barrel. This belief was so persistent that the cooper’s craft almost disappeared.
This anti-barrel movement tainted with wild productivism is fascinating, as it resulted in the great return of wood over the last 40 years. After having explored different innovations, oenology came back to the oak barrel that has incomparable organoleptic capabilities.
The founder of the Cavin Cooperage, Charles Cavin, dedicated his life to this return to the terroir.
Charles Cavin, Founder of the Cavin Cooperage
In love with both the earth and the forests of the Châtionnais, Charles Cavin discovered wine through another love story- through his marriage to Anne-Marie Jayer. Her father, Robert Jayer, was actually a winemaker in Vosne-Romanée, and cousin of the greatly missed Henri Jayer who marked Burgundy and wine history with his Cros Parantoux.
If the work in the vineyard is fundamental, Charles Cavin also understood very quickly that barrels were a major component when elaborating a great wine. The Jayer were so sensitive to this aspect that “new barrel” became the rule. In his passion, he devoted himself to barrel-making and explored this field in depth, from the stave mill to the top management of a major cooper in Grenoble.
After acquiring several decades of experience, he founded the Cavin Cooperage in the Châtillonnais, on the doorstep of a 84,000 hectare forest rich in exceptional raw materials. The local climate allows an optimal wood seasoning: the rain and the frequent fogs penetrate the oak in a natural way, to wash it from all its unwanted tannin. No artificial intervention is needed, and a slow maturing of the oak can take place.
The Cavin Cooperage today
After their father’s death in 2013, Pierre and Henri Cavin have assured the continuity of the cooper. Each of them (they’re twins) had already worked for several years in this family venture.
Like many Burgundians who come from the wine world, Pierre and Henri studied in Beaune, a city famous for its diplomas in this domain.
The first picked oenology and the second coopering. However, it’s their family before anything else who shaped their craftmanship and career.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you want to meet them.