Like many, I enjoy a glass of wine (or two) with a good meal, when on a social outing with friends and at the end of a particularly arduous workweek while chillaxing on the couch. This past Saturday whilst doing just that, I got to thinking: What happens to old wine barrels?
Generally, commercial wine barrels are considered ‘used up’ after four to six years. (This figure is based on a full year of aging each time.) Many are discarded even earlier after only a few vintages, adding to our landfills and contributing to the burden on our environment.
To prevent this, some companies are salvaging these wood containers and giving them a second life by fashioning them into products for the home, from flooring to countertops.
Take Blue Grouse Wine Cellars in North Vancouver. Its reclaimed wine barrel flooring is made from all parts of the barrel. The process involves breaking up the barrel, removing the metal hoops, separating the heads and pulling apart the staves. The flooring is then engineered by taking an eighth-of-an-inch veneer from the barrel and applying it to tongue-and-groove Baltic birch using non-formaldehyde adhesive. The veneers are finished with an ultra-low volatile organic compound, water-based urethane. Less than 10 per cent of a barrel is thrown away – parts not used for flooring find their way to becoming stable bedding, mulch or smoker pellets. Even the galvanized metal hoops and nails are recycled.
The Blue Grouse Wine Cellars’ flooring is available in three different formats: cooperage, wine-infused and stave. Cooperage is crafted from the barrel heads and showcases the unique stamps used by wineries to identify a barrel’s contents.
Wine-infused is made from the inside of the barrels, naturally stained by the wine they once held, giving this flooring a rich finish. Stave is manufactured from the outside body of the barrels. Markings from where the metal hoops have been removed achieve an overall weathered look. A whole barrel is required to make just three square feet of cooperage or wine-infused flooring. (More of the stave flooring comes out of a barrel as the surface area used is much greater.) Regardless of style, no two planks are alike since the selection of barrels always varies.
Westcoast Barrel Co. is also putting barrels that have outlived their usefulness in the spirit-making world to second use. Since 2020, the Abbotsford, B.C.-based business has been providing made-to-order furniture and home decor items made out of oak wine, whisky and bourbon barrels, including cabinets, shelves, coat racks, stools, dining and end tables, clocks, serving trays and charcuterie boards. The company uses equipment specifically designed to work on rounded lumber to provide not only a more efficient process but also a more precise design.
Similar to Westcoast Barrel, whose foray into repurposing old liquor barrels was born out of the owners’ inability to find a moderately priced wine barrel table for purchase, Mark Robitaille of LMB Designs got into the reclamation business on a whim. What originally started off as a hobby – crafting an old barrel into a wood fire table for personal use, as a hobby during the pandemic – soon turned into a full-time job. Unsurprisingly, the Kamloops, B.C.-based company makes outdoor barrel fire tables, available in half, three-quarter and full barrel sizes, which have become LMB Designs’ best-seller. Sections of each custom-made piece are left unsanded and exposed, so no two pieces are alike. What’s more, this allows customers to see and feel where the wine saturated the wood for years. Other functional furniture pieces and accessories made from old oak barrels include coffee and entry way tables, Adirondack chairs, benches, bathroom vanities, medicine cabinets, wall sconces, wine racks, tablet/phone stands and even pre-fabricated feature walls, allowing consumers to appreciate wine-making well after the barrels (and their glasses) are empty.
Clare Tattersall is an interior designer and decorator in Toronto, and the editor of Canada’s floor covering magazine, Coverings.