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Allô, allô, Bonjour!

Quality wine deserves to be enjoyed in small thoughtful little sips. Not only because it is the nectar of the Gods, but also because it is more labour intensive than any other natural product around.

In this issue we reveal just a tip of this laborious iceberg. And we haven't even started yet on the wine itself.

Allez, à l'attaque!

In this Slurp!
Oh, la, la... Spring in the vineyard
Atelier du Tonnelier
The winner of 'Win your weight in wine'

Oh, la, la... Spring in the vineyard




After an icy and fragrant winter, the vineyard slowly awakens and, groaning with pleasure, stretches herself, taking in the warmth of the first rays of sun. It's party time among the fresh green shoots of the vines: marigolds, daisies, purple clover and wild garlic compete for most colourful party guest, enthusiastic ladybirds are giving it socks and, most important of all: the first grape blossoms are peeking into the world with curiosity.

Two lifetimes before you can even start

Almost all human inventions, have their natural predecessors. Houses were preceded by caves, boats by tree trunks and the wheel by the sun rolling across the heavens. The original storage solution for liquids was the stomach of a goat, emptied, dried and sewn up. Perfect! Don't change a thing, you'd say.


Nevertheless there were certain perfectionist types who felt the need to keep liquids in a different container, in an armful of wooden planks. A crazy notion that would have indicated them either being certifiable or French.


Or both, as it turns out.
The wine barrel was invented 2000 years ago by the Gauls. So while it was the Romans who taught the Gauls how to make wine, it was the Gauls who taught the Romans how to make waterproof wine barrels.


But making barrels is incredibly difficult. Nobody can do it! So the small handful of Gauls who managed to fiddle these bunches of planks together in a vaguely coherent manner, were held in high regard. To guarantee their exclusive status they retreated into a society in which they were sworn to an oath of secrecy to take their carpenters' secrets into the grave with them.


During medieval times, the coopers' star had risen to such a height that they were allowed residence in the royal palace. That way the king could check up on his coopers and make sure they were completely devoted to the seamless hammering of the barrels for his precious wines.


King Charles the Great went even further and appointed his coopers as wine-pourers. In this way he could, if the wine wasn't to his taste, blame the cooper/pourer and, where required, behead him.


These days a wine barrel starts its career in the forests of France, for example in Allier.
That is where one finds the mighty oaks that render the best wood. They are planted close together so they grow straight up into the heavens and yield nice straight staves.


But this kind of agroforestry does require a certain amount of patience: two human lifetimes to be exact; only then is the oak ready to be felled.


Rapturous but respectful, the winegrower inhales the scent of a two hundred year old giantess of the forest.


Then follows a certain amount of hefty chopping, cleaving and hacking, during which the tree is sawn into chunks, axed into lumps and eventually carved into staves.


After that the tree, in its now plank form, lies outside and gets used to the idea that soon she'll be allowed to embrace 225 litres of delicious wine.


For two whole years the sun, wind and rain purify the wood, strip it of the bitter tannins and strengthen the aromas that it will soon be sharing with the wine.


After eight seasons the planks are allowed in, where they are sanded down into the correct shape.
A painstaking job, because if the shape is even slightly off, the barrel will end up leaking.


Master cooper Vincent Darnajou, fourth generation barrel maker, shows us with playful ease how to line up a barrel to be.
'Just 24 bits of wood, that's a barrique,' he laughs.


In the cooperage the loose staves are secured together by three iron hoops, but only the top end, because...


...now comes the crucial bit: toasting the inside of the barrels. This will help release the oak aroma and lend more complexity to the wine.
Vincent scorches his barriques in three gradations: light, medium and (to avoid the term 'heavy') medium plus. With a fireproof hand, toastmaster Jean-Claude makes sure the workshop doesn't go up in flames.


Barrique, Vincent's 'chien de vin', is getting a little hot and moves a couple of feet out of the way.


The open barrel is now placed over the flames so that the bottom ends of the staves can be pulled tight with a steel cable.


The winegrower sticks his heavily insured nose into the barrel and savours the aroma: 'Hmmm...the scent of freshly roasted oak!' he sighs with relish, 'puts me instantly in the mood for wine!'


He waves his hand to bring up the scent of toasted wood and now Vincent succumbs too, next we find two grown men moaning with pleasure spending minutes suspended over a wine barrel.


The roasted barrels can now be taken back to the cooperage. This is where the top rings are hammered on. Another exact job, were no mistakes can be afforded. And that is why Winedog Barrique keeps a close eye on the coopers.


In Vincent's studio a barrique isn't assembled by ten different people. No, every cooper makes his own barrel from start to finish and is personally held responsible for it. Here are the fûts by Dré Chabrol, Vincent Jaune and Nicolas Ricard.


Barrique scrutinizes every cooper equally without discriminating based on bodyweight, hair colour or shoe size.


Having said that, he keeps an extra close eye on newcomer Nicolas, whose hands are not yet entirely used to the less than compliant coopers' tools.


But then Nicolas does something that makes everyone's jaws drop to the floor: with a few accurate blows he manages to, in an Olympic record time of three minutes and 6/8 seconds, hammer the three remaining hoops around his barrel.
Applause booms through the studio. Winedog Barrique lets out a satisfied bark.



When the six hoops are securely fitted around the barrel the lid can go on. Job done you would think.


Not so: first two bumper edges need to be fitted. Willow twigs need to be split, cut to size and attached with rattan around the barrel.


Finally, time for a quick social media moment.


The coopers' clock, the number that indicates the lunch hour carefully removed, points out that we are hopelessly too late for the afternoon meal.


But all was not lost: we are welcomed in this atmospheric establishment, a veritable hub of activity and mirth. While the menu contained only one dish (cold pizza slice), it was accompanied by excellent wine (that we brought ourselves).

Why does wine have to go into an oak barrel?


During the cask ageing process oxygen permeates the walls of the cask. This sets off a slow oxidation process in the wine, which softens the flavours while the wood's natural sugars and tannins can blend smoothly and beautifully with the wine.


At the same time some of the alcohol and water evaporate through the wood. This lends the wine its characteristic taste. The lees and leftover grape pips are deposited on the bottom of the barrel where they can easily be removed.

But how long for?


Some wines for as long as two whole years, but we don't want the taste of oak to overpower the fruit flavours. Apart from the fact that your wine will begin to taste like floor polish, you run the risk of waking up the next morning with a wooden head induced by an overdose of tannins.


We aim to find the perfect balance between the fruit of the grapes and the aromas of the oak. Depending on the strength of the vintage we mature our wines between eight and twelve months on barriques produced by maître-tonnelier Vincent.

Trivia (skip)

From the moment the wine barrel was invented by the Gauls, France has always remained the biggest producer of casks in the world. The French coopers produce more than half a million barrels (fûts, in French) a year. This is a lot more than the French winemakers need so three quarters of the production is exported to the USA, Australia, Italy and Spain.

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The winner of 'Win your weight in wine' 2018

At last year's Albert Heijn Christmas festival new subscribers to this newsletter were offered a chance to enter into a 'Win your weight in wine'-competition.
Night after night our winegrower had lain his four poster bed, praying to the gods: 'Please let the winner of our competition be an emaciated reverend on a hunger strike, or at most a slender ballet dancer on a juice diet!'
But alas, the gods were not in his favour.


The winner of our competition turned out to be Marian Vos, a sparkling lady who charms all she meets and is a radiant example of the Dutch wealth and abundance.
After a cheerful visit to Slurp-Headquarters she drove home singing, her booth full of wine.


Slyly the desperate winegrower attempts to block the scales a little. But resistance is futile, Marian became the enthusiastic owner of a significant stock of bottles Slurp and La Tulipe.


Naturally our winner also received a signed copy of the award winning book 'Slurping in France'.
Santé, Marian! Great to have you here!



You can find Château la Tulipe de la Garde Bordeaux Superieur at Sainsbury's supermarkets.
Cliquez ici for more information.

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