By Melissa Keogh
South Australians love their wine, but what happens to the barrels once they’ve reached the end of their useful life?
Barossa Valley craftsman Peter Ruchs has a few imaginative second uses for aged oak wine barrels – fashioning them into lasting homewares pieces such as cheeseboards, platters, and tea light candle holders.
The up-cycling idea was born when Peter, also a winemaker, took home a couple of wine barrels that were destined to be thrown out or used for firewood and decided to make something from them.
His daughter Kristal caught sight of what he was crafting and saw an opportunity to sell the homewares products – each uniquely stained and scarred from years spent ageing wine – at local markets.
The backyard hobby turned into a full-blown business – Winestains – run by the father and daughter duo from their workshop at Williamstown in the Barossa Valley.
“To be able to make something from a product that is no longer useful is really important to us,” says Kristal, who looks after administration and marketing.
“Wine barrels are worth over $1000 and the timber is in the top 10% of the oak, so it’s quality timber.”
The old wine barrels are sourced from local wineries. All parts of the barrel is reused and recycled including the metal hoops which become handles on the cheese boards.
Most of the homewares are sold within Australia, through Winestain’s online shop, on the Shop South Australia marketplace and also through shops, boutiques and galleries across SA, Victoria and NSW.
Kristal says their last local market appearance for the year is on November 23-25 at the Bowerbird Design Market.
She says social media has played a big part in lifting the profile of local artisans and craftspeople who might otherwise only create their wares as a sideline job or hobby.
“I am seeing a trend of consumers understanding what is involved in creating something unique, and the importance of local artisans and makers,” Kristal says.
Fellow craftsperson Tali Strauss is also passionate about giving old-wine barrels a second chance at life.
He runs Tubbies Australia, a Barossa Valley cooperage that manufactures quality port and spirit maturation kegs from American oak ex-wine barrels sourced from local wineries.
The kegs are sold to general consumers or fortified winemakers who store fortified wines in them, as the richness and character of the oak adds to the maturation process.
Tali entered the craft industry 30 years ago after working in fashion and advertising for many years but in the end longing to “get back to doing something with my hands”.
“I saw an opportunity 30 years ago with wine barrels, I knew the wine industry at the time had trouble disposing of them,” he says.
“So I moved into buying barrels and doing them up in all sorts of ways; as an example we were selling them as half wine barrels to garden centres and hardware stores.”
Then Tali hired a retired experienced cooper to teach him the traditional cooperage methods of crafting oak timbers into kegs.
Tubbies Australia is one of Australia’s few coopers, a proud and traditional trade that dates back thousands of years but is often seen as a bit of a dying art.
“There aren’t many coopers around and it’s a big process to hire someone and for them to learn the trade,” Tali says.
“You can’t learn coopering by going and doing a TAFE course, you can learn machining, but you have to learn coopering on the job and it takes about four years.
“Tubbies cooperage has evolved to become the largest manufacturer of port and spirit kegs in Australia.”
Industry in focus: Craft industries
Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.
South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.
Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.
Shop South Australia is home to a unique collection of over 300 South Australian gifts and goods from more than 70 local makers and producers. Choose local and Shop South Australia.