In 2005, the Bordeaux barrel-maker Tonnellerie Sylvain (Sylvain Cooperage) paid a record-breaking 37,790 euros for a 340-year-old oak tree auctioned by the French government. The tree was the last of the oldest oaks from the Morat Grove of the ancient Tronçais forest. It had been planted during the reign of Louis XIV at the direction of the king’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who initiated an ambitious project that reformed and greatly expanded the national forest system in France. Colbert’s main goal was to cultivate an on-going supply of timber for the shipbuilding division of the French navy. The species planted in the grove was Quercus robur, commonly known as pedunculate or English oak. They were ideal sources for the masts of large ships back in the mid-15th century because of their tight-grained wood and their ability to grow tall and straight.
This particular tree had to be felled in 2006 because it had been infested with Capricorn beetles, so it was cut down before it could deteriorate further. Several of its contemporaries were harvested and sold to make wine barrels in the 20th and 21st centuries. This final Morat Oak was approximately 134 feet tall and 12 feet in circumference. It yielded 60 wine barrels, each of which retailed for about €700. Barrels were purchased by France’s most famous chateaux, including Rothschild, Talbot, Lagrange, and Cheval Blanc, according to Tonnellerie Sylvain. They were also acquired by many other prestigious winemakers worldwide.