Tasting a decade of Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: 2001-2010
Tablas Creek 101: Why (and How) We Use So Many Grapes

The Serenity of Foudres (Sometimes)

By Chelsea Magnusson

The addition of the new tasting room and foudre rooms has been a bit of a challenge for those of us in the cellar.  Where before, we could do most of our work on the foudres in private, it now feels as though we are on display in a big glass cage (someone mentioned that we should put up a sign that said "Please Do Not Feed the Winemakers" - which I thought was a terrible idea... you're more than welcome to feed us if you feel so inclined).  On the other hand, with the foudres finally having a room built just for them, where they are organized and settled in their permanent home with beautiful warm lighting, the space can be incredibly peaceful and inviting. 


I love being in there before the tasting room has opened, when everything is still and quiet.  But it can't be still and quiet forever.  We have been through a marathon bottling schedule for the past few months, and now the foudres that once held the wines from the 2009 vintage are all empty.  We try to keep the foudres full throughout the year in order to keep the wood staves supple and healthy (when they dry, they can shrink and crack and when left open, are more prone to bacteria making itself at home in the wood).  So, for the last two weeks, Ryan and I have been working through the cellar finding lots that we can build that equal 1,200 gallons (the capacity of a foudre).  It's quite a challenge: not only does the math need to work out, but we need to find lots that are similar enough to combine while at the same time, the lots need to possess the ability to better a potential counterpart with the union.  For instance, we can combine an 873 gallon tank of Grenache VF OV V (which is translated to the fifth pick off of the French vinifera old vine block) for its brightness, vibrancy and candied strawberry quality with six barrels of Grenache VF OV III (the third pick off of the same block) to bring a little weight, density and tannin to the blend. 

Before the foudres are filled, they need to be cleaned, and we have a new toy to help us do that:  a specialty ultraviolet light that is used to sterilize the surface of the wood.  The ultraviolet bulb is carefully slid through the top of the foudre and the metal box affixed to the bulb rests on the outside.



We have read that more serious versions are installed in ambulances to sterilize the interior of the vehicles and apparently, similar models are also being used for water treatment. While it may be new, we're excited to give it a try and see how it goes. 

You can bet that I'll be enjoying the serenity that the foudre room has to offer for a few more days before it becomes a blending madhouse in there.  And sincerely, if you see us working in there and you have a snack you'd like to share, please - don't hesitate to tap on the glass.