Cooperage — Most folks (excluding winemakers) have little understanding of the significant impact that cooperage (oak) has on the flavor and style of wine. Just like vineyards, oak barrels have their own terroir, or sense of place, that comes through in the wine.
Possibly no region in the world has more terroir than the Tokaj region of Hungary, which gave rise to the Tokaj dessert wines described as “the wine of kings and the king of wines.” Also, the forests in this region are famous for producing super-tight-grained oak for use in wine-barrel cooperage. Not only have the local wines been aged in these Tokaj oak barrels for centuries, but even the famous châteaus of Bordeaux once considered the oak from Tokaj superior to that from French forests.
That changed with the world wars, when suddenly the oak was no longer available to those outside the iron curtain. Their primary market gone, the cooperages in the area were forced to produce barrels for lower-quality sweet wines destined for Soviet officials. (The coopers were even forced to make a piece of furniture or two.)
With the lifting of the iron curtain came the Molnar family's involvement with the Kádár Hungary cooperage. Although the cooperage had been isolated for 40 years, the base of skilled coopers was still there. Still present too were the very special oak forests. The Molnar family, of Hungarian descent, stepped in with capital to help finance the operations, with business know-how to help the cooperage operate in its new environment, and with a market link to the broader world, especially the United States where the Molnars had settled in the 1950's. In particular, Peter Molnar, eldest son of the family (and a Tricycle Wine Co. partner), stepped in to participate in the rebuilding of the cooperage. He now oversees its management.
Today, Kádár barrels are once again used in all the world's major wine regions, including Europe, South Africa, Australia, and California. Frog's Leap, Wildhorse, Duckhorn, Acacia … the list of those who value Kádár's Tokaj oak as part of their flavor profile is long.
Tricycle Wine Co. uses Kádár barrels exclusively. Each year, partner Peter Molnar walks the forests of Tokaj just as partner and winemaker Michael Terrien walks the vineyards of Carneros and Red Hills. The philosophy is the same: great fruit, or in this case, oak, makes for great flavors. Control over the grapes, or the trees, makes for more control over the flavors and the style of the wine.