French barrel maker Tonnellerie Boutes has lost over €100k of barrels in the wreck of container ship MSC Napoli off the UK coast.

The Bordeaux tonnellerie lost 168 barrels, made from Allier and Vosges oak and each worth €650 (£427) on average, in the wreck. All the barriques were destined for winemakers in South Africa.

‘The barrels are definitively lost,’ Mr Morise, Boutes’ head of marketing, told decanter.com. ‘Once sea water has come into contact with them, they can no longer be used.’

Pictures of scavengers on the Devon coast near Branscombe showed them walking away with the pristine French oak barrels. When quizzed by journalists, one scavenger said ‘yeah, they’re totally empty – more’s the pity’.

Morise said that although the loss was covered by transport insurance and that the company had not lost money, it had lost time.

‘Although most will get by, there will be a few winemakers who will be in great difficulty,’ he said. ‘You can’t just replace 168 hand-made barrels overnight and by the nature of the business, timing is essential.’

Boutes sends 60% of its export via container ship and plans to send the replacement barrels, once made, by the same medium, forcing customers to wait several weeks.

However, not all was despondency in the Boutes offices.

‘There’s a bit of a joke in the building that we’ve had a huge advertising push,’ said Morise. ‘People are calling up from all over the world to say, “oh, its you – good advertising coup.”’

Written by Oliver Styles