12 Jul 2017
French Oak Forests
For centuries, the French Government has overseen the management of forests in northern and central France. This has been done in France like no other region in the world. The “Futaie” system of sylviculture—a careful thinning out of trees to cultivate those of the highest quality—results in the best oak wood in the world. These trees are prized for its fine grain, purity and rare uniformity. The Office National des Forêts (or ONF) was founded in 1964 and enforces sustainable forestry practices to make sure that the supply of this valuable natural resource endures for centuries to come. This agency has the most sought after techniques and extreme know-how to produce the finest quality oak known.
Almost a quarter of France, or nearly 14 million hectares, is forest, constituting more than 40 percent of all forests in the European community. How big is a hectare? Well, one hectare is roughly the size of a football field.
About one third of this forest land is oak. There are 2,600,000 hectares of the two species of oak of interest to the cooper. At least 2,000,000 of those hectares are located in the regions important for barrel staves. That is two million football fields full of oak used for wine production!
To produce the Futaie barrels, we work with family-owned stave mills that have been crafting staves of the highest quality for generations. In France, about one third of all forests are owned by local governments or the national government. However, the sale of over 80 percent of all oak is tightly administered by the National Forestry Office (ONF). Each year, In September and October, wood auctions are held all over France. Our Master Cooper at Tonnellerie Ô is at the auctions, ensuring that year after year, we get the best possible oak for our customers. After 36 months of aging, the staves are delivered to the US where we add customized toasts, helping winemakers craft the perfect barrel of wine.