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We had no idea of the complexity of barrel-making until Mr. Cooper gave us a behind-the-scenes lesson in his craft.

A barrel is made up of five components:

The flat, circular wooden top of a barrel is called the HEAD. The flat, circular bottom of a barrel is also called the head. (Hence, two heads are better than one!)

A STAVE is one of the many curved wood slats that make up the body of the barrel. The number of staves used is determined by the overall size of the barrel being made. Interestingly, the stave is usually the only part of a barrel that is toasted.

The BILGE is the potbelly (widest section) of the barrel. It is here the sediment from the wine rests as the wine ages.

Holding the oak staves and heads together are steel bands secured to the barrel with the use of sets of rivets. These HOOPS used to be made by the Cooper’s assistant (known as a Hooper), but there are few working Hoopers today.

The BUNG HOLE serves as an access port, allowing the winemaker to sample the wine without physically opening the barrel. The hole is normally sealed with a stopper, usually a cork. (The actual tool used to remove the wine sample is a large slender tube, or pipette, called a “wine thief.”)

There are six standard sizes for wine barrels, from 225 to 1000+ liters. However, the world’s behemoth is Germany’s Heidelberg Tun, built in 1751. With a capacity of 220,000 liters, throughout the centuries it has been used more as a dance floor than for wine! 

Once a wine barrel has outlived its usefulness, it may be used as a table, lamp stand or accent furniture piece. At the very least, the head can be re-purposed for use as a serving tray, or as part of a wall-mounted collage. Creative crafters love old wine barrels!

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Tracie Burket
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