Monthly Archives: October 2014

Happy Halloween

Ah, those days as a child when nothing really mattered – except to have more pounds of chocolate than anyone else. Yes, life was simpler then.

Happy Halloween - Wine barrel style

From All Souls Day, to All Saints Day and finally Halloween on October 31st, has progressed (or regressed) into a modern day phenomenon like most holidays with the actual meaning being almost lost along the way.

Halloween developed in the Celtic region a millennium ago with the Christian tradition of souling, where prayers for the dead were traded for a cake that was similar to fruit cake – yea, a lot of jokes come to mind. Later the beginnings of Halloween as we know it with children going door-to-door and saying ‘trick or treat’ evolved in places like Great Britain. Poor children went from home to home asking (or begging, as it were) for food in return for once again souling.

It’s been said the practice here in the United States is a century old, but history doesn’t actually tells us much about trick or treating until the Depression era and mainly in the Western United States. Regardless, kids still are begging for treats today.

Stay safe and hopefully you will have a great evening – we here in wine country will be wet … but were not complaining. Although I’m sure there will be some children none too happy. I leave you with this Celtic saying:

“From ghoulies and ghosties – And long-leggedy beasties – And things that go bump in the night, – Good Lord, deliver us!”


Daryle Hier




Farmers Have Had Enough – Sue California

In the ongoing battle for water and rights, a group of farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have filed a suit against the state of California.

Friant Water AuthorityThe drought has been agitated and made worse by decisions created by state official’s choices. Therefore, the suit was filed by the Friant Water Authority – a group of about 15,000 farmers – to address these poor resolutions by the state.

Government not helping

The problem is the state has decided that a wildlife refuge north of Los Banos (and others) was more important than the welfare and legal rights of California citizens including growers. The farmer’s rights were denied when the state allowed water for the bird refuge while denying delivery of water to growers. Law states the farmers have higher precedence over wildlife and thus the water should have been delivered to the small towns along with growers in the area.

As a whole, the Golden State is semi-arid and thus has built dams and water project throughout California to cope with a lack of water, especially during dry years. The issue has risen and been compounded because state and federal officials have been using water to help a baitfish and salmon deal with their less than desirable conditions. However, that has led to huge amounts of water being allotted for wildlife while denying Californians water.

San Luis National Refuge

Piling on

Causing a man-made disaster, the federal government pushed by environmentalists, allowed water to be diverted towards the ocean so the Delta Smelt would have the correct amount of water to exist. That’s on top of the fact that farmers weren’t allowed to use their own channels because the smelt had worked its way into the farmers waterways. Another reprehensible action by the state was denying farmers the water that was already purchased.

With an iffy weather report for this coming winter, the drought will continue to be front-and-center with the government pitted against its citizens.

The suit by the Friant Water Authority can’t help what has already transpired, but it can negate and/or facilitate future water right’s situations should they arise again.


Daryle Hier



How To Make A Decorative Wine Barrel

What’s old is new again

Over time, we at Paso Wine Barrels have received many compliments on the beauty and quality of workmanship shown on our Decorative Wine Barrels. These accolades are greatly appreciated. Periodically we receive requests for information on how we handle the make-over of some of the ugliest and most awful looking wine barrels you have ever seen.

Used barrel

Actually, if you are willing to take the time, have the desire and a true “I can do this” attitude, with just average ability and a few tools, you can take that crummy old wine barrel and make it look better than new. Don’t get discouraged, used wine barrels are usually pretty unsightly, but they don’t know it. And note that we had a four part series on recrafting a beat up project barrel – check it out if you want additional information (Recrafting An Old Wine Barrel).

How to do it

An important item in recrafting a wine barrel is the work stand. An empty wine barrel weighs 90 pounds, it is three feet tall and its bottom and top are between 22 and 24 inches in diameter (26 to 27 inches at its widest point), depending on your particular barrel. You don’t want it to tip over on you while working on it. It should stand about a foot and a half off the ground or whatever height is comfortable for you as a good working position.

A suggestion is concrete blocks available at most home and garden centers. They run about a dollar each and a good solid platform can be built for fewer than ten dollars. Another suggestion is a large metal wash tub placed upside down, making sure the diameter gives you about three inches extra all the way around the barrel – so approximately 30 inches in diameter will suffice.

Although it is possible, we do not suggest working on your project without it being elevated. Please keep in mind, that this is hard work and should only be done if you are handy, determined and/or have some woodworking abilities.

Partially sanded barrelThe Process – Sanding

With the barrel sitting on its stand, the process can begin. If you prefer natural color bands (hoops) now is the time to clean them up. Depending on how badly they are stained, the easiest and most efficient way to do it is with a “3M rust/paint remover wheel” attached to an electric drill, which are available at most hardware stores. If this method is not available, hand sanding with a heavy grit (80-100) sand paper should meet the necessary requirements of a clean looking hoop band.  Be sure to sand the bands in a straight horizontal direction around the barrel, not up and down.

When all the bands have been cleaned they are ready to be removed. Remember to never remove all of the bands at the same time. One band must remain below the center of the barrel and one above center at all times – preferably with nails still in them. This is very important as the hoops hold the barrel staves together at both the top and bottom. Should all of the hoops be removed, the barrel WILL come apart. It’s like a giant Rubik’s cube to try to put back together and can take days. Trust us, we learned the hard way.

Sanded wine barrelLeave the top and bottom bands on the barrel, remove the other bands. It will require the removal of the nails (usually mini-hoop nails with a head shaped like an “L” – see thumbnail pic near bottom of article). Remove them by placing a chisel or screwdriver on the edge of the “L” and give it a tap with a hammer then remove them with pliers or side cutters. If the head breaks off, use a small center punch and just drive the remainder of the nail back into the barrel, the band will then slip over the nail hole upon removal.

After detaching the bands (except top and bottom), you are ready to sand. When the hoops are removed, there will be a line where the bands have spent the last five or six years while the wood has faded around them. For your barrel to come out smooth and beautiful when stained, you must sand out all these lines. For best results a belt sander with an 80 grit belt should be used. Care should be taken while sanding to not push too hard on the area where the band lines show. Just take your time and “feather” this area into the body of the rest of the barrel. Don’t get too close to the upper and bottom bands when sanding as this portion will be done after changing the bands and turning the barrel over.

A finish sanding should be done with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the texture and grooves left by the heavier paper on the belt sander. It will take about two 8 x 10 sheets. Cut several 3 x 5 pieces, then with a glove on one hand, sand with up and down strokes staying in line with the grain of the staves. Use the ungloved hand to feel the wood until the finish becomes smooth all around the barrel. Leave about seven to ten inches from the bottom band. This will be sanded when the barrel is turned over.

An arm after sanding wine barrel

Now take the bilge band, the closest band to the center, and install it. Make sure it’s tight by using something like a large punch or a small ball peen hammer placed on the edge of the hoop which you will hit with a bigger hammer. Go around the barrel doing this until the band moves down and tightens up. Now, take three small finish nails, driving one partially in on the upper side of the band and bending the nail over. Go around the barrel doing this in at least three places – you will remove these later. When you know it’s tight you may now remove the top band and continue sanding the upper part of the barrel.  When finished, get the help of another person to carefully turn the barrel over. By the way, use a tarp underneath where you work – there will be a lot of sanded wood material every which way.

Follow the same procedure on this end as you did on the other and when finished, re-install the top hoop and remove the bilge band. Touch-up with the 220 sanding and now you’re ready for staining. Pick a stain of your choice that preferably includes a sealer. Lowes, Home Depot, Ace or most hardware and paint stores have a myriad of stain colors. To insure sealing and give it a rich tone, at least two coats are required.

Stain sealer and varathane  

At Paso Wine Barrels, we go through the same routine for staining as we do for sanding. Remove the bands (except top and bottom), stain the barrel, replace the bands, turn it over to remove the other bands, stain some more, replace the bands, turn the barrel over and finish by permanently affixing the bands.

Stained wine barrel

The next course of action is Varathane or Varnish. We at Paso Wine Barrels prefer Spar Varathane to insure a shiny and professional look. The procedure is best with two to three coats and requires moving the bands around the same as when sanding and stain sealing. An alternative to this would be to mask off the bands with masking tape and just apply the varathane between bands as the last operation when the barrel is finished.

Whether it involves sanding or staining, as the different phases evolve you will find yourself removing bands and re-installing them in order to completely cover the barrel while not removing all the bands. It may sound complicated but once you look at it and see what the barrel needs, it’s really quite simple – hard work but simple. To temporarily re-install each band as you go just use three or four small finish nails, driving them only partially in and bending them over.  Before final installation, they will be removed. Each band will be lined up evenly with the bung hole, receive a final tightening and be attached with professional hoop nails.


Hoop nails are not available in stores; however, they can be found on line at or Barrel Builders in St. Helena, California at Each band will have a section where it is held together with two rivets. Use this spot to align the bands with the bung hole on the side of the barrel.

Hoop nails

Setting a hoop nail with the fingers can be painful so a safe and easy way to hold them is with needle nose pliers. The nails are shaped like an “L.” With the pliers, hold the nail on the very tip of the “L” and place the tip of the nail on the bottom of the band between the rivets using a ball peen or smooth tipped hammer. Go directly across to the other side and drive another nail. Now visually measure the distance across and split the diameter to place the other two nails directly across from each other for a total of four nails. Make sure all bands are tight before nailing. Using this procedure, continue nailing until the “top” bands are secure; then turn the barrel over and repeat the process for the remaining bands. Your beautiful natural band, stained, sealed, varathaned, recrafted wine barrel is complete.

Decorative Wine Barrels

If you prefer painted bands, simply wait until you are finished with the barrel. After at least 24 hours use a good masking tape and with newspaper mask off the entire barrel with exception of the bands. Being very careful with the wood surface directly above and below the bands, paint with your preferable color – a primer coat would be the preferred method. The painted band wine barrel project is complete.

There you have it, an almost furniture like barrel that will certainly be the talk of conversation when anyone sees this beautiful reworked wine barrel. Of course, you know where to go to find a used wine barrel – Paso Wine Barrels. Good luck!

Salootie Patootie,

Ron Hier



California Drought – Quick Winter Update

Rain, or lack of – otherwise known as drought – is never far from the minds of Californians. We’ve had two very dry years in-a-row and winter is nearly upon us.

Regardless of the fact that state and federal governments have made it worse, the drought is draining resources and clearly a problem at this point. And according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) we could likely have yet another year of drought. Yes, that sound you heard was 40 million Golden Staters wincing.

Bad and good – mostly bad

This annual winter report has a mix of news including the likelihood of an El Nino, however, NOAA doesn’t feel confident it will be a strong El Nino. This means California will probably get less rain than normal and indeed if the El Nino is weak, the state will get very little moisture.

As far as the wet stuff is concerned, the news is both a sprinkle of good with bad as a little less than half in the southern part of the state might escape the trend; but, in our Sierra Nevadas where snow pack offers up so much of our water needs, it isn’t good news overall for California. As far as a more local view, the Central Coast is slated to be about normal – which at this point, we’ll take it and be happy.

Temperature-wise, the Golden State will shine if you like wearing shorts and t-shirts in the winter, with much higher than normal temps. This is great for growing seasons and well, hanging out at the beach or lake. Still, even though we do have a certain amount of water available to use, with these dire warnings, the government is more inclined to help a salmon and a bait fish have enough water, than farmers and citizens.

As we all know, weather reports are notoriously fickle and we can only hope that they are wrong again.

Source: NOAA


Daryle W. Hier



Paso Harvest Wine Celebrations

The month of October is considered harvest month although the first grapes were likely picked as early as the end of July and some grapes may be left on the vine until November. Still, as production winds down at the wineries in the fall, dinners and special celebrations finish off the season.

Autumn in Paso Robles vineyard

While any weekend of October can have celebratory events at many vineyard locations, the biggest weekend is in the middle of the month with what a local organization calls Harvest Wine Weekend. From Friday through Sunday (Oct. 17-19), over a 100 vineyards and wineries will have dinners, celebrations and festivities including music and entertainment. Fun stuff like grape-stomping, barrel tastings and food pairings will carry-on throughout the rolling hills of Paso Robles and much of the North County.

Sitting next to a vineyard while taking in its beauty matched against the countryside, is an adventure that can’t be missed. The canopies are starting to change color, which is one of the unique and almost breathtaking periods of the entire season with oranges, yellows and reds striking out through the wine country landscape, making for a memorable site.

The weather has cooled from the tremendous heat that summer and even early fall can present, offering up a comfortable setting for any type of gathering.

Paso Robles - bed and breakfast - view

High Ridge Manor

With a fun yet relaxing time enjoying music, food, wine and a view that can’t be imagined without actually being there, this is one of those special experiences that everyone must encounter some time in their life. So head on out to Paso Robles.

As we say:

“Paso Robles – Come for the view – stay for the wine.”


Daryle W. Hier



Golden Oak Honey Festival

We have a saying, ‘What’s old is new again’ to describe our business of resurrecting old used wine barrels and making them into beautiful decorative barrels that in some ways, are better than new. The Paso Robles Main Street Association is doing something similar every fall with the Golden Oak Honey Festival. The event is currently the fourth Saturday of October at the Downtown City Park, running from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Golden Oak Tree

The Autumn festival isn’t actually new as they’ve operated the Golden Oak Festival for many years; but, this time they’ve added some charm and fun to the theme: honey. That appears to have sweetened the event up and will include several bee and honey oriented activities and displays as the center of attention. There will free tastings of bee products and a wide assortment of other honey related goods and merchandise.

Built around being a family affair, the Golden Oak Honey Festival will have the same elements as most downtown park events have with antiques, collectibles, arts, crafts and food, to go along with bee keeping seminars and other associated exhibits. Of course, don’t forget there will be wine barrels and half wine barrels.

With the colors of fall beginning to show, this will be a great time to check out what’s going on in Paso and remember, there are wine-tasting rooms surrounding the park.

The festival is free and so is the parking. See you there and don’t forget to come by and visit Paso Wine Barrels – we’ll be on the corner of 12th and Spring.



Daryle W. Hier


Renovated Used Wine Barrel







Get these already popular barrels now! 



What Is Your Favorite Wine?

We had an election and brought to mine that I somehow never thought to ask what peoples favorite wine is. Considering we’re in the number one wine region in the world, the least I could do is engage folks by asking what their favorite varietal is. I don’t want to sway the vote, so I won’t say which is mine. I think if you’ve read enough of these posts, you probably know. Now vote.Wines on store shelf.


Daryle W. Hier


Renovated Used Wine Barrel







Get these already popular barrels now! 


Paso Robles Splits Up

Last year, several dozen wine grape producers and owners of nearly a third of the land, applied to split up the huge 33,000 acre Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) into 11 smaller viticultural regions. This was done in an effort to describe each sub-appellation as separate and different areas. Now the United States Department of the Treasury has ruled that the new districts can designate using the new sub-appellations.

Better describe uniqueness

The smaller appellations will still remain under the 31 year-old Paso Robles AVA umbrella, but now they can explain and depict their vines more precisely. With over 300 wineries, the 11 sub-districts represent diverse terroir and micro-climates that give Paso Robles such a big advantage creating unique wines.

This concept of dividing the large Paso AVA was tried seven years ago when the Westside proposed a Salinas River split, but the plan was withdrawn a couple years later. Yet at that time, the first proposal to split the area into 11 separate AVAs began.

Winemakers can now designate their wines with the smaller sub-regional description to more aptly show consumers where exactly the grapes came from. The area is complex with some temperatures ranging 20 degrees just within the Paso Robles AVA. Also, winds have variations in them, the soils change dramatically and even diurnals can be very different.

Diverse region

Christian Lazo Wines helped Venture Vineyards quite a bit in the early going.

The region is as diverse as any AVA … maybe in the world.

The region is huge enveloping roughly half of northern San Luis Obispo County. Stretching from San Miguel in the north to Santa Margarita in the south and from Adelaida in the west to Shandon in the east, the Paso Robles AVA is mammoth .

Consider the relatively arid districts in the east with the wineries up in the much cooler Coastal Range to the west, gives just a peak as to the varied conditions weather-wise that the region offers. Compare those with more moderate climes in the south, brings the story home as to why the vintners and grape growers felt compelled to split the region up.

The 11 districts are:

  • Adelaida District
  • Creston District
  • El Pomar District
  • Paso Robles Estrella District
  • Paso Robles Geneseo District
  • Paso Robles Highlands District
  • Paso Robles Willow Creek District
  • San Juan Creek
  • San Miguel District
  • Santa Margarita Ranch
  • Templeton Gap District

These new identities will be official in November. It should be noted that while the wineries can use the latest sub-AVA, they must also have Paso Robles AVA on their label as well. Check out the Paso Man video below for a little, um, well, clarity.


Daryle W. Hier



Drought Slows Wine Production, Not Quality

The 2014 California wine grape production at the start of the growing season had all the markings of a third-in-a-row huge haul for the industry. However, weather and the man above had other plans for this years harvest. And it’s not all bad.

It might not look pretty but the grapes from these vines are scrumptious.

No record third year

So many winemakers and growers told yours truly over and over again this year that they would be holding on to their extra barrels because they could see another big grape growing season. A timely spring rain helped this notion along and the industry was ready for a repeat of 2012 and 2013 – especially considering the warmer than normal spring here in California.

Still, drought, helped along by local, state and federal government over-bearing and over-regulated intervention, created a lack of water. This in-turn didn’t offer up the needed ingredient to push clusters to grow big and plump.

Tonnage appears off this year so far during harvest but the one thing that has improved is quality of fruit. The grapes are smaller, but aided in part by cooler windy weather just when vintners were ready to pick what was ready to be an extremely early harvest – and voila, the grapes had time to ripened longer on the vine, maturing into what is a high quality product. It should be noted that some wineries here on the Central Coast have reported good yields.

2014’s vintage may be one of the better years in recent memory. Several winemakers have told me that although their production is off by as much as a third, the current quality of grapes hearkens back nearly a decade ago.


What happens when the berries don’t have the usual water, they become smaller with a more concentrated flavor that usually offers up a sweeter and more powerful wine. This is good news for vintners who are sitting on quite a bit of wine right now. With this vintage being a higher quality, but lesser volume, it won’t cramp wineries with little room for this years crop; yet, creates a superior wine with better aroma and taste.

Crops are continuing to be picked and with harvest being earlier than normal this year, most of the grapes are in, destemmed and crushed. It remains to be seen how much total tonnage there will be in California – at the very least, farmers can be satisfied that 2014’s vintage will be one to remember.


Daryle W. Hier