March 04, 2013

Struth! New life in the old oak

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that in France, a forward-thinking winery has planted a thousand oak trees to be used for making barrels to store its wines that won't be made for around a near-200 years.

And not any ordinary oak trees: they've been propagated from acorns dropped by one of the most revered trees in French history – a mighty over-size specimen that itself rose from a tiny acorn at Bourges in the Sancerre wine-growing region in 1560, and was killed by a fatal lightning strike 433 years later in 1993.

According to legend, the Saint-Etienne Oak (The Tree of Life) gave inspiration to the ministers of French King Henri IV who would gather under its vast branches in search of intellectual enlightenment, while King Charles VII was also known to have taken his 20-year old mistress Agnes Sorel (dubbed the Dame de beauté) there for different forms of enlightenment.

Reaching 37m into the air and with a girth of 6m, the dead oak stood forlorn until 1995 when revered local winery, Henry Bourgeois had it cut down to make staves for barrels to store the company's legendary Sancerre wines from the 2000 to 2003 vintages.

At the same time, botanists gathered acorns dropped by the historic Saint-Etienne oak, with 1,000 of the healthiest raised in a nursery and now being planted out as a man-made forest. Of these, over 900 will be harvested for making wine barrels for Henry Bourgeois wines 100 years from now, and forty of the mightiest kept by deed for a further 90-odd years for making barrels for the wines from the company's 2200 vintage.

For which, unfortunately, none of us will be around to check-out for the result.

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