The cooper is an expert in the art of dressing the wine. The work is heavy, hard and dirty, consisting in the manufacture and repair of pipes, barrels, casks, tubs, mash-tubs, vats or other wine containers, preferably in oak and chestnut wood.
Widely used in Roman Times, rare are the traces of this type of containers that survived to this day, given the perishable material they are made of. They were, however, referred by Julius Caesar and Pliny, and quite represented in Roman funerary sculpture, namely in cupae (funerary monuments in stone, shaped like a barrel or cask).
Although its most common use was to contain wine, these containers were also used to store other liquids, like beer, and various kinds of goods in Medieval and Modern Times. On sea voyages, for example, they carried drinking water and solid food as meat, dried and salted fish, flour, beans, among others.
The cities of Oporto and Lisbon had their own regulations of the cooper craft since, at least, the 15th and 16th centuries, but in Penafiel we do not know the reality of these artisans for such an ancient time, and documentary references are rare. We only know that in 1742, when the first Regiment of Crafts was drawn up, these professionals were not regulated, and there was only a cooper master, João António, who lived in Chans (now Praça Municipal) in 1762. However, the art of cooperage would be quite necessary and required, considering the many innkeepers that existed in the city who certainly needed the cooperage services, as well as the existence of several vineyards in the territory that were dedicated to wine production and marketing in the 19th century, in particular on the large farms such as Aveleda, Puços and Calvário.
Whereas that a barrel can last fifty years, cooperage work mainly goes through repairs and arrangements, reaching its peak period during the months before the harvest, between June and October. The pipes and related containers are made up of wooden rulers, called stavesand slats, by bottoms or tops, and by the iron hoops that support the whole structure. After the drawing, the wood is cut and attached by the hoop of bastição de cabeça or moço de pau, that gives shape to the vessel and is only removed after the insertion of the last slat. This is followed by the placement of the structure on a little flame flare, for the walls to bend in the heat, moistened, and then receive the remaining iron hoops, but not before being squeezed by the monkey, placed at the bottom, around the barrel. Finally the first bottom is made and the head is beaten with a mallet until it’s fully embedded. The placement of the second bottom requires some skill, as the saying goes – “the devil didn’t want to be a cooper afraid of, when placing the bottom, getting his tail stuck!”. After the barrel is done, a hole is drilled to place the bung that corks the container, and it’s filled up with boiling water to make sure it’s well sealed. Two or three days later the barrel is paraffined so that the wood does not absorb the liquid that will be stored therein.
PEREIRA, Pedro Abrunhosa (2017) – O vinho na Lusitânia. Porto: CITCEM – Centro de Investigação Transdiciplinar «Cultura, Espaço e Memória”, Edições Afrontamento, Lda.
SOEIRO, Teresa (2008) – “Ofícios e tradições do Douro”, As Águas do Douro, Coord. Gaspar Martins Pereira. Porto: Águas do Douro e Paiva, SA, p. 155-197.
Tombo das Festas do Corpo de Deus de 27 de Abril de 1627 e de 22 de Maio de 1705, In SOEIRO, Teresa (1993) – O Progresso também chegou a Penafiel. Resistência e mudança na cultura material (1741-1910) – Anexos. Dissertação de Doutoramento em Pré-História e Arqueologia apresentada à FLUP, Porto: edição policopiada.