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Nadalié Sources of Oak - France


Oak selection and terroir as fundamental in achieving optimal flavor extraction

France is the dominant source of European oak for staves. The country not only contains vast forests covering more than 20% of its own area, but produces oak of a quality that is highly sought-after in barrel making. The most common oak in France, as throughout the rest of Europe, is the Quercus robur species (also known by the designation of Quercus pedunculata and Quercus rubra) which flourishes in a variety of growing conditions. Another important, though less common species of oak in French forests is Quercus petraea (also known as Quercus sessiliflora, Quercus sessiflora and Quercus sessilis), which has a tighter grain. Nadalié produces barrels from oak originating in the Nevers, Allier, Tronçais, Centre, Vosges, Bertrange, Jupilles and other, smaller forests. Forest of origin is a significant factor in the choice of oak in that the terroir and climate of a given region affect, among other things, the density of grain in the wood. A tighter grain not only means a less porous wood, which ensures a watertight barrel, but releases oak flavor to the wine more slowly. By contrast, tough, coarse, loosely-grained wood, such as oak from Limousin, imparts strong flavors more aggressively and is usually less suitable for wine barrels.
After the the city of the same name, Nevers refers to a group of forests located within the the Départment of Nievre in central France. The soil in this region of gently rolling hills is rich and moist, which produces tall, straight, evenly grained trees. While the predominant oak species here is Quercus robur, a notable exception is the Bertrange forest which consists almost entirely of Quercus petraea. The oak of Nevers may be characterised as having medium-tight grain, and is used for a wide range of red and white wines, but primarily big reds.
The Allier forest region, named for the Départemant over which it extends, is adjacent to and south of Nevers. It shares the soil characteristics of the Centre region and thus produces similar oak, although the wood is somewhat tighter than the norm for a "bois de centre" or medium-tight-grained wood. Oak from this region works well with a wide range of red and white wines.
An individually-named oak-only forest within the Allier region, Tronçais is significant not only for winemaking but due to history. Tronçais was one of many large tracts of forest planted in the 17th century under Loius XIV to provide oak for the French navy. The oak species is Quercus robur exclusively. In deep, rich, loamy soil, Tronçais oak grows to great height. The excellent growing conditions make for very rapid vertical growth and minimal lateral expansion, resulting in an extremely tight grain. Subtle oak flavors make Tronçais well suited for prolonged barrel aging. The limited production capacity of this sub-forest means that the oak is highly prized and in great demand by makers of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bordeaux blends and Pinot Noir, among others.
To the West of, and adjacent to, the Nevers and Allier forest regions in central France is the Centre forest. Many actually consider the Nevers and Allier forests to be part of the Centre region as far as barrel oak is concerned. As such, Centre would constitute the greatest contiguous region of forests in all of France. While these forests share the same climate, there are differences in soil and topography. Oak trees in the forests of Centre proper grow in soil having a large proportion of clay, are planted close to one another, and are of small diameter. The wood is medium-grained, producing subtle tannins in Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.
Among the forests in the low hills of Northeastern of France near the Alsatian border with Germany are those carrying the Vosges appellation. The oak from this elevated region grows tall and slender, has a relatively course grain, and releases more tannic flavors than much of the oak grown at lower altitudes. While not as subtle in the release of flavors as tighter-grained oak, it is suited to faster aging and imparts a distinctive character to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
An individual forest within the Nevers region, Bertrange lies between Chablis to its Northeast and Sancerre to its Southeast. Unlike the other forests of Nevers, Bertrange contains mostly Quercus patraea oak which, in the favorable conditions of the Nevers region, grows into a consistent, dense grain.
The Jupilles forest is local to a village of the same name situated on the edge of the Loire valley 30 Km Southeast of the city of Le Mans. It is known for its ancient oak trees which provide subtle floral aromas to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay aged up to 12 months.
Named for the old province Limousin, Limousin oak comes mainly from the Départment of Haute-Vienne near Limoges. The terrain is rugged, the forests small and scattered. The soil is also porous and sandy, and lacking in some important nutrients and minerals. These poor conditions hamper vertical growth, resulting in shorter trees of wide girth and irregular grain, making the oak difficult to work using mechanized equipment. The wood is at the far end of the scale in terms of looseness of grain; the release of flavors is too aggressive; all of which makes the oak from this region some of the least desirable for wine barrels. Instead, Limousin oak is used primarily for distilled brandy and other spirits.