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Maturation of wine in Foudre

Maturation of wine in Foudre

A Foudre is a large wooden vat, it can contain  up to 300 hectoliters and more. This word is coming from the German " Fuder " translated  as « cartful, containing », having entered in the French language in the 16th C. This type of vat is to be found particularly in the Mediterranean vineyards. The use of Foudre for maturation results from a long wine tradition, but its interest is also linked to the volume, the thickness of staves and the age of the vat.

The micro-oxidation: Stephane Bourret from Domaine Bastide Blanche at Bandol  said that «  Foudre is essentially  bringing (as anymaturation  in wood) a slow oxigenation of the wine which generate a polymerization of flavanoïdes compounds. These non polymerized compounds does’t have tannic characteristics, they are only forerunners of tannins and have a bitter dimension. Polymerization produces development of tannins.

  • During the vinification, we air the wine in order to obtain the phenomenon of polymerization. If the wine comes from very tannic grape variety, this maturation enable to accentuate the polymerization… 
  • In a small wooden content (barrel or demi-muid) there conversly no addition of oaky flavours.  Even with brand new Foudre, the extraction of wooden taste is much less important than regular oak barrel, related to ratio surface and volume of wine : the bigger the less oaky !
  • If we want an oxygenation of the wine without addition of aoky notes, it is necessary to use these big barrels : the more the Foudre is small, the stronger its wooded taste will be. According to vintages, the choice of various size is crucial : on a rather light vintage (on 2002 in Bandol) it is better to put it in the biggest as possible helping the wine of " to hold ". This wooden maturation is possible only if the wine has a sufficient tannic structure.
  • If the wine is rather light (therefore not enough phenolic compounds) oxidation gives a quick polymerization (few phenolic compounds in " work "). Absorbed oxygen is going to dissolve into the wine and will produce an oxidative problem. The Art consists in controlling this oxygenation without arriving oxidation.

What grape varieties to use?

« More than the grape variety c ‘est the type of wine wewant  to make which determines this maturation. If we wiant a light wine, Foudre maturation is not necessary. If we want a very concentrated wine, it is necessary to have long vinification in order to have a big extraction and therefore having an important wood maturation»  thinks Stephane Bourret. «Reductive grape varieties are necessary for this kind of maturation » or  other grapes coming from very good years.

What type of style Foudre is bringing ?

According to Julien Paillé from Château de Rozier in Costières de Nîmes: « Whether it is the barrel or Foudre, compounds brought in the wine are similar, proportion only will change, more stuff will be extracted from the first one. Foudre will bring additional aromas to the wine (vanilla, grilled and smoked scents, mineral, toast, fresh wood), in reasonable proportions. »

Stephane Bourret notes that the age of Foudre is very important and have a strong influence on the addition of taste: « One young Foudre will bring rather frank wooded notes (coffee, grilled) while an old one will give notes more spices (pepper, nutmeg).  The older, the more the notes of old wood and brushwood will appear. Older again, the notes of old dry wood will appear. These Foudre may "dry" the wine giving astringence notes without improving anything. It is therefore necessary to change regularly a part of Foudre. As long as Foudre respects " the fruit " of the wine, Foudre is useful.

But eveything can vary every year and : what’s difficult is to know how to use the Foudre according to the vintage. Every Foudre has its own characteristic, we know it by experience. Some are making the wine harder, other oxidizes faster. It ‘s necessary to deal with the Foudre to achieve blending that gives interesting aromatic notes and  preservation of  varietal flavours. »

Advantages and drawbacks :

Several technical advantages are significant due to their volume: less manipulations is necessary to accomplish (save time, handiwork, less risk of oxidation) than on the smallest volumes of kegs.

Disadvantages are: price, often delicate cleaning to maintain all wooden porous Foudres, fragile (they need a lot of  very hot water to clean), and his conservation: it always must  be full (wine or water). Stephane Bourret adds that « Foudre is a living entity in which they put some wine. If we put wine without bacteriological defect, a bacteriological equilibrium is going to settle, that shouldn’t be destroyed by the use of chemical to clean.

  Conclusion:

This kind of vat is interesting for its ability to  oxygen and giving a light aromatictouch . All grape varieties (particularly the Mediterranean said grape varieties) are appropriate in this type of maturation because it is very respectful to the wine.

But Stephane Bourret from Domaine Bastide Blanche concludes: «Foudre is fantastic because its preserves the varietal aromas. Why producing AOC (a geographical origine and the adaptation ground/grape variety) if they must conceal the whole by universal tastes in systematic maturation  in small barrel ? »

If we want to protect the renowned diversity of  French wines, maturation in Foudre can go in this way !

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