In a move aimed at enhancing wine quality and controlling costs, Beringer Wine Estates (Nasdaq:BERW) has announced plans to develop an in-house cooperage to produce a portion of the company's growing need for high quality wine barrels. The cooperage, which will be located in Cloverdale in Sonoma County, will be overseen by Master Cooper Keith Roberts, a veteran wine cooper with 30 years of experience in barrel making who was hired by Beringer Wine Estates in the summer of 1999.

"We look at the new cooperage as an extension of the winemaking process, a tool that will further enable us to finely control every step involved in putting quality wine in the bottle," said Tom Peterson, Vice President, Sonoma Operations and Winemaking, who, along with Roberts, has been instrumental in developing plans for the cooperage. "Our winemaking teams will now have the opportunity to be an integral part of the entire barrel making process; their input and ongoing participation will be crucial to the program's success."

Roberts, who was General Manager at Mendocino Cooperage prior to joining Beringer Wine Estates, has spent the last 10 months sourcing wood and securing suppliers in France, Hungary and the U.S. The cooperage is expected to start producing barrels in Spring 2001 in time for the 2001 harvest. The barrels will be for use by Beringer Wine Estates wineries only; no barrels will be sold to outside wineries.

"Fine oak barrels are an 'ingredient' or 'component' of wine, and I see barrel making as analogous to grape growing," comments Roberts. "From the growing conditions in the forest, to the selection of raw material, to the way the wood is seasoned, cured and aged, to the way the barrel is coopered and toasted, there are thousands of ways to affect quality all along the way. As with grape growing, the more control you have over the entire process, the better quality you get in the end."

Roberts also insists that the cooperage is a winemaker-driven project. "My hope, ultimately, is to tailor make our barrels to the winemaker's specification for a particular wine. For instance, someday I'd like to see a Meridian Edna Valley Reserve Chardonnay barrel, or a Beringer Sbragia Chardonnay barrel - barrels that have been coopered with those specific wines in mind. In that way, the winemaker's "signature" will extend to the barrel itself."

Beringer Wine Estates is a market leader in the California premium wine industry. The company consists of six award-winning California wineries: Beringer Vineyards, Chateau Souverain, Chateau St. Jean, Meridian Vineyards, Stags' Leap Winery and St. Clement Vineyards, plus an import portfolio of premium brands from Italy, France and Chile. Beringer Wine Estates controls over 10,300 acres of vineyard land, all in the coastal regions of California.