In Napa Valley, Lidia learns about the art of coopering, or barrel building, an ancient trade dating back thousands of years.
Ramiro Herrera at workRamiro discovered his love of barrel making when he was 20, and got hired at a cooperage called Seguin Moreau. Recognizing his talent, the company then sent him onto France to get the training necessary to become a Master Cooper. The training was a big commitment. It lasted four years, and among the group of forty trainees who started out with him in the beginning, only he and one other ultimately made it through. Ramiro now has the distinction of being the only Master Cooper with Mexican heritage and looking back acknowledges that “getting there was hard work, very hard work. No power tools were allowed, and absolutely everything had to be done by hand. They want you to learn the artisan way”.
Lidia visits Demptos Napa Cooperage, where coopers produce 100 barrels a dayNow Ramiro is the sole barrel-maker for Caldwell Vineyard and Winery in Napa Valley. He shows Lidia how he assembles American oak into barrels by hand, and also demonstrates the complex art of toasting a barrel—a process which is as integral to wine-making as the grapes, since the level of toast in a barrel determines the flavors imparted to the wine. The nose knows—or it must to ply this trade, since it’s essential to becoming a master. Lidia puts hers to the test to see what aromas she can detect. As the master cooper for the Caldwell Cooperage, Ramiro works closely with the owner and the head vintner to produce barrels that will bring out the tastes that the wine makers desire. Ramiro says working at Caldwell has taught him a lot over the years. One of the things he loved the most about the art of barrel making was learning about the relationship between the forest and various trees, and the flavor it infuses in the wine. “The terroir of the forest really matters when it comes to the flavors,” he says. “We can control every stop of the process – hand-selecting the finest wood, shaping the staves, applying the hoops and toasting –makes a big difference in the final flavors imparted to the wine.”
Ramiro Herrera and Lidia sample some of the wines produced in his barrels (the wines aren’t toasted)