They are the masters of their trade, the keepers of an age-old tradition and together, represent more than a century of experience fashioning oak timbers into barrels for wine and spirit maturation.
They are the coopers of “YN Oak”, Andrew “Youngy” Young’s business which is celebrating 20 years in the trade, operating beneath the iron-clad rafters of Seppeltsfield’s original cooperage that dates back to the 1800s.
You won’t find any shiny, whiz bang hyper-efficient machinery here, for nothing is massed produced and that’s how Youngy and his hand-picked crew like it.
“Walking through that door is like walking into the Tardis – you take a step back in time,” Andrew said.
“It’s got a really good atmosphere as you can see!”
A crackling fire that burns all day throughout the year and sounds of hammering amidst jovial laughter from character-filled tradesman, are testament to the old world charm this place celebrates.
“I was asked to come out here and the rest is history,” said Andrew.
“YN Oak originally started with “Y” for Young and “N” for Norris, after Kent Norris the guy who used to work here – it’s a play on words to sound like wine oak.”
When Andrew started at Seppeltsfield, barrels were made exclusively for fortified wines.
“We’ve branched out into many different fields now…wine, whisky, rum, balsamic vinegar, even tabasco sauce and beer barrels.”
The last 10 years have been really exciting for YN Oak who are always on the lookout for different markets.
“We’ve had opportunities with the Fiji Rum company, Aston Martin and Glenfiddich… we have a good association with Coca Cola and are continuing to send barrels all over Australia.
“We do a lot of high end presentations with wood carving and barrels of all descriptions – nothing is out of bounds.
“We are chasing niche markets all over the world now, that’s what we specialise in and we are having a lot of fun trying to create things that others aren’t doing.”
Being part of historic Seppeltsfield, the traditional hand-tool cooper shop has captured the attention of numerous high profile guests captivated by the artisans at work.
The future king of England, HRH Prince Charles famously set foot in this tradesman’s lair and took home a hand-crafted barrel filled with Laphroaig whiskey; while internationally renowned chefs and restaurateurs, including Marco Pierre White, have been keen to see barrels being manufactured for use as vinegar
“We’ve had some great people walk through these doors…leading to some great opportunities from well connected people,” said Andrew.
Those connections have led to Andrew being the first and only cooper to be a member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the oldest and largest food and wine society in the world.
“It’s a group of high end chefs…and we supply vinegar barrels to them.
“One good thing for us with this whole COVID-19 thing, is that people are suddenly discovering, wow! Barrels have a lot of uses other than wine and whiskey.
“There’s other liquids they are putting in there…They are even doing home preserves using barrels so it is all quite unique in that way.
Unique is the word these coopers love to hear with each offering different skills to the manufacturing process.
Between “Youngy”, who has been in the trade for 44 years and “Schulzy” (Rodney Schulz) a veteran of 52 years, there is little these two don’t know about the art of coopering.
Add Jeff Laycock, a Major having served in the military for 40 years and Michael Hoffman, a grape grower, and you have the secret to YN Oak’s success.
“I hand picked my guys,” said Andrew.
“They are from different backgrounds and each have a different view on life and see things from different angles. They provide another set of eyes so you always get fresh ideas.
“Jeff and Michael still work their other jobs and work in the cooperage on a permanent part time basis….We don’t bring the Private in, we bring in the Major…there’s nothing but the best here!
“That’s what makes this cooper shop quirky and helps us, believe it or not, in chasing those high end markets because they all bring something that shapes what we do here.”
Andrew is grateful for their connection to Seppeltsfield and his close association with Warren Randall and Steven Trigg,
“They are go-getters and we are lucky to be part of that whole Seppeltsfield
Meanwhile, the crew at YN Oak continue to evolve with market needs, whether it’s making a barrel destined for Antarctica or for the Sultan of Oman, nothing is off
“We are still a hand tool cooperage, and that’s where we are going to stay because that’s our strength,”said Andrew
“We can upscale, side scale, do whatever. We are very flexible.
“Nothing fazes us because we have a belief and that’s to have fun!”