The 1,539 m3 of plot 50, oaks born under the Restoration, were highly coveted. Sogibois, a subsidiary of Tonnelleries François Frères (TFF Group), bet big and won the bet: “We are satisfied without being satisfied: we have the best wood but we paid too much”, growls its general manager Bernard Gendre.

In total, TFF bought more than 4.5 million euros worth of wood. The patriarch of the old house, Jean-Robert François, 80, is still a little dazed: “It’s a sum. We meet the demand of prestigious clients in the United States, New Zealand or South Africa , who want exceptional woods where the world’s greatest wines will age,” he told AFP.

– Centenary know-how –

This Wednesday, the ONF, which manages 11 million hectares of French public forests, organized its most prestigious sale of the year: 62 lots for 44,000 m3 of wood, sold to the highest bidder – on condition of making the first processing on European soil.

Balance of the sale: 15 million euros. A record. “In an hour and a half, we made 5% of the annual turnover expected in 2022 for the sale of ONF wood”, welcomes Aymeric Albert, head of the wood sales department, who initially counted on “10 to 13 million”.

“We are the only ones in the world to have oaks of this quality. With this wood, the great coopers do not sell an oak barrel, they sell an oak barrel from plot 50 of Tronçais”, he explains.

The sale started at 9:30 a.m. The buyers, around fifty, connect in the room, like the coopers Charlois and TFF, or remotely, like Canadell, another giant in the sector.

They buy standing, living timber, which continues to grow in the nearby forest of Tronçais, one of the most beautiful regular high forests in Europe, whose century-old know-how has recently been included in the inventory of French intangible cultural heritage.

For months, foresters have been crisscrossing the plots to estimate the trees. The most beautiful oaks bear their markings, in fluorescent blue, green or orange. They will have 18 months to cut them.

In the room, everything goes very quickly: 30 seconds to make an offer, without knowing those of the competitors. The result is immediately announced.

A few “Houhh” of amazement escape as the remarkable batches follow one another. “Prices have soared. We made around fifty proposals and we are leaving with five lots,” says Patrick Larrivé, supply manager at Charlois.

The family group processes between 80 and 100,000 m3 of oak per year, 80% of which is recovered in its sawmills. “Fortunately, we still have the reserve”, summarizes the buyer.

Many leave empty-handed. The surge in demand, after remarkable harvests, is mainly due to the scarcity of supply, eroded by the upheavals in the weather.

“The volumes harvested are down due to the difficulty of renewing forests. The oak suffers from heat stroke, it cooks” and it is sometimes necessary to cut younger weakened trees, explains Aymeric Albert.

A subject of attention for Hélène Génin, technical director of Château Latour, where the wine is aged only in French oak barrels, drawn from 14 suppliers.

“Having oaks that grow very regularly and slowly allows for very fine grains and wood rich in aromatic compounds,” she explains. “If they reduce the age of the trees, it will be necessary to study the impact on tanification”.

The ONF wants to be confident despite everything: it mixes species and ages, tests new species and hopes that the ecosystem will find its balance.

Last batch of the sale, a 220-year-old oak was sold at 25,082 euros. A joy for Claire Quiñones, commercial director of the sale, who sees valued “the work of 15 generations of foresters”, worthy “of the time of the cathedrals”.