Visiting the Schneckenleitner cooperage
Our recent company outing led us to Waidhofen an der Ybbs. There, we were welcomed by Paul Schneckenleitner. Paul and his brothers Peter and Herbert are the fifth generation to lead the traditional family cooperage. Recently, they have managed an exemplary expansion and modernization. For more than 30 years, Schneckenleitner have been delivering barrels to the Bründlmayer family, mostly 300, 1200 and 2500 litres in size. Since then we have been learning together and from each other, and we keep on trying to attain an optimal relationship between our maturing wines and their ‘framing’ casks. For those of us working in viticulture, it is very helpful to essentially understand the craftsmanship of our coopers. It is thereby equally fascinating to learn about the selection of the wood, its treatment from tree to stave, and to observe the process of the barrel-making itself.
Paul led us to his timber stockyard, and, in a nutshell: only completely healthy wood of largely over 100-years old (slow growing) sessile oaks, felled in winter at the new moon (when there is hardly any juice in the wood) and stored for at least several years outside (air drying while leaching undesirable tannic elements or flavour components) would meet our demands.
Splitting Before Sawing
Oak trunks that have been split into four along the fibres before being sewn (following the ‘quartier cut”) would give the best staves. Sawing is laser-controlled: the machine leads the cut along the fibres of the ‘sap channels’; because wine should be stored in, but not reabsorbed by the barrel.
Handcraft & Helping Machines
Even today cooperage remains strongly linked to true craftsmanship: we saw the initial assembling, the heating and toasting, spraying and bending of the staves step by step, then the ‘hooping’ of the barrel (when wooden or metal hoops are fitted around the cask by skillful hammer blows) or how to fit in the ‘drums’ and to seal the joints by means of reed leaves – all these procedures were executed by the Schneckenleitner team with impressive energy and skill. It is the often heavy and monotonous parts of the work like splitting, sawing, planing, smoothing and sanding where all state of the art machines give great support or guarantee clean air and high security levels.
A heartfelt '"hank you!” to the whole Schneckenleitner family & staff for their hospitality and long-term partnership!