Category Archives: Alcohol

Wood Bung Plug

Wood bung plugIf you’re not familiar with this term used in the world of wine, the bung hole is simply the hole on the top of a barrel. It-turn, the bung hole is covered with a bung or bung plug – similar to what a cork does. Other names like stopper, cork or taper can be used to describe a bung.  The bung plug typically can be made out of almost anything including plastic, rubber, glass, silicone and of course wood.

There are advantages to each product such as the fact that rubber is easy to manipulate and move, while plastic is cheaper, glass looks the best and silicone might breath the best. These different attributes are important, and maybe there’s a little bit of all of them in wood bungs.

Wooden Bung Plug

The wood bung plug that is offered here is two inches in diameter on the outside or top of the bung, and roughly one and three quarters inch on the end or inside. Though each is handmade and therefore unique from each other, they are about an inch and a half long. Paso wine Barrels came up with the size based on the typical wine barrel bung hole, which is an inch and seven eighths to just a hair shy of two inches in diameter. The inch and a half is long enough to be able to grab hold of to pull off, yet not too short that you can’t get a hold of it to take off. Note, a typical wine barrel capacity is 58-60 gallons or about 225 liters.

To make this unique bung plugs, a two inch pine dowel is cut about an inch and a half long. Then its sanded until the taper will fit a test bung hole. Roughly an inch of the bung length has a taper. The edges and ends are sanded, then stain and sealed with a dark cedar tone. This offers a longer lasting and better looking bung plug. Unlike glass, wood does have a little bit of breathing ability and yet is more natural than plastic, rubber or silicone. If you’re interested in a truly working bung plug to make beer, wine or spirits, there is the ultimate plug called the LUX bung. Click here to check out a story done on it a couple years ago.

Other than staves, the wood bung plug is the single most popular item sold at Every state in the union has one and its popularity continues to grow.

LUX bung plug

Decorative barrel with LUX bung

I’m sure some of you including millennials have been snickering while reading, thinking the whole time about the term bung hole; but, this discussion is only talking about barrels and not butts.

Many holes in containers like barrels, are universally made to two inches, therefore Paso Wine Barrels bung plug can used in many different applications, including the larger alcohol related barrels like puncheons, casks and tun. So, whether you’re looking for a bung stopper, cork, taper or whatever you may call it, this is the bung plug for you.

“I find friendship to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man’s milk and restorative cordial.” – Thomas Jefferson


Daryle W. Hier






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Wine: Where It All Began, Sort Of

Mount Ararat - Armenia

Casual conversations among wine drinkers sometimes leads to where did it all begin. Okay, maybe my interest in history leads to that conversation. Still, where it all began is interesting thought regarding wine.

When, then where

Maybe the better question could be when did winemaking start. I’m not going to get into the exacts of this because there are unbounded vagaries as to the who, what, when, where and how of wine and winemaking. It’s arguable, and archaeologically speaking, the history of winemaking is a bit blurred. However, sometime during the end of the Stone Age, or upwards of 10,000 years ago, may be where early man discovered the pleasurable magic of vino. The Bronze Age some 5,000 years later is when wine production probably began. It should be noted that theoretically, man discovered alcohol from watching birds eat fermented fruit and then becoming odd in their actions afterward.


Ancient pottery from archaeological site in Armenia

While wild grapes can be found from Western Europe to China, the domestication of wine looks to have begun in the steppe region of Armenia (also known as the Upper Middle East). In these highlands, with the advent of pottery, wine production likely began. Less than 30 years ago, there were archaeological digs in this region that found 5,000 year old pottery remnants with a red hue, thought to be wine residue.

The trek that wine took went from Armenia and migrated south to Mesopotamia (Iraq) and west to Eastern Europe.

Its biblical background

From a biblical perspective, it’s suggested this Upper Middle Eastern plateau expanse could be where the Garden of Eden was located. Another tidbit is this area might have been where the first production of apricot brandy occurred. It’s well known that brandy was first regularly produced in large supply in Eastern Europe including the Black Sea Region, not far from Armenia. Geographically speaking, Ancient Armenia stretched from the Mediterranean to the Black and Caspian Seas.

Greek wall painting showing grape-vines trained over a trellis, then crushed in a vat. The Bible credits Noah with inventing wine.

Greek wall painting showing grape-vines trained over a trellis, then crushed in a vat.
The Bible credits Noah with inventing wine.

Noah was said to have planted a vineyard in this same area and made wine from it. This is the first written account of grape growing and winemaking. Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark landed, was in the middle of Armenia (edge of modern day Turkey). Although wine was produced mainly for royalty and dignitaries, some partook for sacramental, religious or spiritual occasions.

The Levant – a name that only recently starting making the news with ISIS (aka ISIL or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) – is a region just south of Armenia and Turkey which is brought up as the earliest times of food … and of course wine production.

Other places

Others state that wine had its start in China some 9,000 years ago. However, this recipe was made from rice and not grapes. Archaeological sites from Iran, to Georgia and Greece show signs of domestic wine production dating back some 7,000 years ago. The earliest exporting of wine from the Levant was shipped to Ancient Egypt over 5,000 years ago. The Egyptians were thought to be the first vine pruners. Note that Ancient Palestine had wine, but it was date wine, made from date palms.

Oldest winery - Armenia

Oldest winery – Armenia

The oldest winery dates back 6,000 years to Armenia – a central and recurring place of reference when researching wine’s history. Yet, truly the Romans brought wine to the fore about 1,000 BC, creating a science and viniculture that is with us today. It is said the Romans created the wooden cask to carry products easily while keeping foods and drink protected, which also kept them from spoiling. Eventually the wooden cask for wine – or wine barrel – would be used as a regular container for vino.

The birthplace of wine might not be clear, and many cultures delved into making different forms of alcohol. Still it could be said that the highlands of Armenia are as good a place as any for where it all began when considering the beginnings of wine.

Sources: Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of VinicultureAlcohol: A History, University of Pennsylvania


Daryle W. Hier


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Wine Region Of The Year Is Lodi

From a growing Central California Coast superstar to small but international star in New York to … Lodi? “Stuck in Lodi” might have a whole new meaning.

Lodi California

Paso Robles won as the top wine region of the world two years ago and New York, including the beautiful Finger Lakes District was the reigning winner, and now Lodi of the California Central Valley has been acknowledged as the current number one wine region by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. They beat such renowned locations as the Russian River Valley California, Sicily Italy, Marlborough New Zealand and Walla Walla Washington.


Lodi is more known to the public for a Creedence Clearwater Revival song from the late ’60s; however, going back to before Prohibition, grapes have been a part of the history of this low lying flat land at the northern edge of the San Joaquin Valley for a couple centuries.

Although it lies roughly two hours east of the Pacific Ocean in what normally is a hot almost semi-arid valley, actually Lodi’s weather is influenced by the Bay Area’s immense northern back bay and the many tributaries that run into it from the San Joaquin Delta. This allows for more cooling in the evenings along with the winds that drive that air east – in-turn giving wine grapes a larger diurnal with a needed respite from the hot summer days.

Mondavi's Woodbridge Winery helped put Lodi on the wine map

Mondavi’s Woodbridge Winery helped put Lodi on the wine map

Mondavi & more

Lodi is home to famed grape grower, Robert Mondavi, who is one of the more prominent and influential winemakers in the United States. The town now is known in part for popular events like the Taste of Lodi and Zinfest.

With over 100,000 acres and 750 growers, Lodi supplied many of the grapes, including Zinfandel, for other wineries outside of the region, but now has made a name for itself. And Lodi received this honor and acclaim in a year of continued drought and awful weather that included a devastating hailstorm this past April.

Lodi may have been previously known for their lower end and production wines. However, without any airs – similar to Paso Robles – the Lodi area has many rogue wineries where rules are thrown out and experimentation offers up great wines. The region also grabbed the attention of the wine bloggers conference, which will be in Lodi next August. So regardless of whether or not the area is as scenic as many of their California brethren, Lodi is becoming a destination stop for wine lovers. With this worldwide recognition by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, expect that draw to continue for years to come.


Daryle W. Hier


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Racking Wine

The beautiful rolling hills of vineyards, always looking so enchanting. The wine business can look charming but there is a lot more that goes into making vines turn grapes into that great tasting liquid that grows ever more popular. To end up with that great looking glass of wine requires quite a bit of work. One of the usually unseen deeds that go unnoticed, except by those working in a winery, is the racking of the wine.

I knew a little bit about this before I ever moved into Paso Robles wine country. Being a homebrewer for two decades, when I first was introduced to beer-making, there were three rules: clean, clean and clean. I would transfer my five gallon wort (beer) into a carboy, to rinse the yeast cake or trub (sediment) from the bottom of the vessel, so that it can clear itself and maybe mature a little more before bottling. Making wine and racking is essentially the same thing.

After primary and secondary fermentation, wine sits in a oak barrel for a few weeks and then is racked – not all winemakers do this. However, almost certainly, some months later, vintners like to rack the wine. Vintners have different philosophies for how often but consider anywhere from three to six months, or maybe even longer. Figure a wine gets racked at least two or three times during its life in a barrel. Wines need rest and the less disruptions, the better.

Racking_wine_between_barrelsRacking process

When racking, it simply is moving the wine from one barrel into another – maybe a neutral barrel – to clear the wine after it settles. A racking cane is inserted into the oak wine barrel and placed right at the bottom, trying not to retain sediment. What is called off flavors created by lees can be imparted into the wine if not racked. Lees is the sediment, which mostly is yeast that’s left behind. It needs to be cleaned out, then that barrel can be reused again and even have the original wine transferred back in that same barrel. By the way, lees can be reused into making dough.

That’s what a neutral barrel can be used for. Neutral barrels are vessels that have been used to the point that they no longer are imparting any flavors into the wine, and therefore after being cleaned, are temporary containers used for racking purposes. Note sometimes, in bigger wineries, the barrels are emptied into steel vats before transferring back into the now cleaned barrels.


Having done this process a time or two, I can tell you it’s difficult work. Gravity-aided siphoning isn’t so hard, but to clean a barrel once it has been emptied isn’t necessarily fun. Typically, the barrels are rinsed initially with water and then cleaned with citric acid. There are barrel washing tools that blast the inside to help clean and then rinse the cleaning agents out – and likely more than once. Both hot and cold water may be used.


Cleaning wine barrels isn’t glamorous, but very critical nonetheless.

You’re probably wondering what happens after racking, because a certain amount of space inside the wine barrel is now open due to some of the product having been cleaned out. The wine barrel needs to be full, so the extra area is filled with top off wine – something I talked about earlier this year.

Wineries try not to splash the wine because they don’t want to aerate it; but, racking in the end is a much needed process in winemaking with the biggest result offering a wine that is clean with the debris left behind.

This time of year, with harvest already underway in some vineyards, racking is occurring with wine ready for bottling, being emptied and those barrels to be cleaned for the next vintage.

Not all of winemaking is glamorous, but here’s to racking, which helps produce a clean and sometimes clearer wine – the end result of all that behind the scenes hard work in the winery.


Daryle W. Hier


Renovated Used Wine Barrel







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Grape Waste Not

A rambunctious early harvest has started here in wine country. The drought conditions have created another earlier than usual picking time as tons of wine grapes start the process of becoming wine. However, with all those grapes being crushed into juice, what happens with the rest of the parts of the grapes, often called pomace? Grape waste not.

grape waste

Piles of grape waste

When I first learned about the processes of making wine, I wondered what was done with all those stems, skins, seeds and sediment. I learned then that some vineyards discarded these solids without any reuse and made into piles to be trucked away to a dump.

I talked with some winemaker friends of mine in the business and found out that more and more are using the waste for an assortment of utilizations. In this day and age of businesses trying to be more environmentally sound, these developments and practices are becoming more rewarding than just making an effort. Troublesome pomace piles are becoming a rare site.

Piles of pomace for good

Now, understand that grapeseed oil has been around since ancient times. Still, the process of taking grape seeds and making oils out of them, had not been widely done until recently. Pomace is the solids or pulp of what is left after the juice is extracted from the grape. Ask those in the know and they will tell you that the pomace of grapes has more of the beneficial health benefits than the juice. These by-products include flour, oils and many other goods. Animal feed is also being produced from grape waste.

Destemming grapes – What to do with the stems?

Some vineyards are creating piles of compost from their pomace and then sell to farms or keep and better their own vineyard amelioration.

The by-product can be made into food preservatives and in fact is used to spray on raisins as a natural preservative while helping to retain or even improve their flavor. Pomace is rich in antioxidants, iron, fiber, protein, vitamin E and anti-bacterial properties, so with a high-smoke rate, when combined as an cooking oil, offers a wonderfully innovative and unique cooking spray, ideal for baking, grilling, sauteing or stir-fries.

Pomace power

Another use that has budding growth in popularity is grape waste as a biofuel. A few years ago, UC Davis started a research project on taking pomace, prunings and other vineyard winery waste to create bioenergy. Considering many vineyards discard their pomace at a cost, making biofuel for the wineries seems a economically feasible and sensible thing to do. With farms trying to be more sustainable, this is a logical step towards those goals.

Bioenergy can be created from pomace

Reuse of any product requires extra cost, but as more ideas are pushed into the mainstream of business, the making of grape waste as a viable option is possible. Combining the nutritive advantages with bioenergy, it appears the useful compounds of pomace’s future look great. With new options popping up all the time, disposing of this grape waste may not be a problem anymore, but an actual benefit.

Additional sources: The Encyclopedia of Seeds, UC Davis


Daryle W. Hier







These coat/hat racks are selling like hotcakes 

Where The Barrels Have Gone

Many have asked over the past months, why availability of used wine barrels has become poor, while prices have risen. The short answer is, well, there really isn’t a short answer.

To put it simply, several forces have been brought together to create this problem.

The most obvious answer to why there is a shortage of used wine barrels is due to winemaking, or rather the increased production and sale of wine, especially here in the United States. Wine consumption is at an all-time high in the U.S., therefore wineries are increasing output and in-turn retaining and using barrels longer. Add to that, the fact California grape productions has been huge over the last few years, which has vintners hedging their bets and holding onto barrels that would otherwise be retired. It’s a little more complicated than that, but essentially, barrels were being hoarded by wineries.

Spirit makers 

Now grape production has slowed a bit in California due to the drought, which we’ve discussed in prior stories. Okay, so where are those barrels? That’s another reason used wine barrels are more rare: spirit makers are buying up those used barrels from the Golden State for increased production of different alcohols including whiskey. Couple that with more craft brewers using more used wine barrels – like local brewery Firestone Walker – and voila, barrels disappeared from the barns of wineries at alarming rates.

Whiskey barrel with bottle lights

Barrels are used for a multitude of creations

These aren’t the only reasons that barrels are harder and harder to find. The furniture business has exploded with used wine barrels being taken apart to be re-crafted into a menagerie of furnishings such as chairs, which are extremely popular. Also, art-based fixtures like lighting and more simpler ideas such as pots and pan holders, plus more common uses like hat and coat hangers with staves have burst on the scene.

We at Paso Wine Barrels are always searching and sometimes we have to limit the sale of used barrels so we have enough to make our popular Decorative barrels. In two years, we’ve had a couple one-month spells where there weren’t enough barrels to go around. The industry will ebb and flow with availability a matter of timing as to who has barrels and who doesn’t.

A few years ago, it wasn’t unusual for used wine barrels to be free to pick up. Those days are long gone.

Additional sources: Wine Institute


Daryle W. Hier




Belgium Brewery Buys Firestone Walker

Stunning news from Paso Robles.

One of the more successful brewers in the U.S., Firestone Walker, has been acquired by Belgium-based Duvel Moortgat. In an agreement signed earlier this week, it was announced that although the acquisition is by Duvel of the California brewer, management will be retained including David Walker and Adam Firestone.

In their press release, Walker states:

“The Firestone Walker and Duvel Moortgat families have combined forces to broaden their capacity and scope as brewers. Long admirers of each other’s beers, culture and breweries, the two teams saw the perfect fit for an alliance. The partnership will allow Firestone Walker to develop our capacity across the US in a conservative and thoughtful way by consummating a life long tie with this family-owned international craft brewer, who continue their commitment to participating in the American Craft Revolution.”

Duvel’s conglomerate has been expanding in the United States recently with acquisitions including Missouri-based Boulevard Brewing early last year. A well-known and award-winning beer maker in Europe, Duvel was established in 1871.

Adam Firestone, who is the great grandson of the famed Firestone Tire and Rubber Company founder Harvey Samuel Firestone, founded Firestone Walker with his brother-in-law David Walker in 1996 here on the Central Coast. Expanding in Paso Robles, California, they created a unique craft-brewed tastes by using wine barrel style oak cask to offer up an oakey style flavor. The company has grown from a small local micro-brewer into a mid-sized brewing powerhouse.

Obviously influenced by wine country on the Central Coast, Firestone Walker uses oak barrels to obtain their unique flavor.

Expansion in mind

Currently distributed in 21 states, according to Firestone’s website, the company struggled to expand and still keep the traits of a specialty craft brewer. Firestone Walker’s announcement states this collaboration, with …

“Duvel Moortgat investment in us is an elegant solution”

The American company insists that all their 360 employees will be retained and the two founders remain in control of management. Both sides of the deal are private concerns so details are not readily available.

It remains to be seen how this combining of U.S. operations will work for Duvel and Firestone Walker, and many will be watching the Paso Robles company to see if there will be changes in the structure of the business going forward.


Daryle W. Hier




Col Solare Winery

What Goes On Inside A Wine Barrel

Ever wonder what is going inside a wine barrel? Creating wines is an art and science. Nuances of all sorts are working to form a vintage and maybe the most critical time is when the juice of the wine grapes is aging. However, what is actually going on and does anybody really know? We just might find out.


A new company called Watgrid from Portugal analyzes the purity of water. They have taken a lot of that same technology and applied it to wine. The product is called Winegrid and its aim is to analyze in real time, maturation and fermentation processes.

Winegrid sensors – made of stainless steel, glass and fiber-optics – are placed inside the dark recesses of a wine barrel and relay information back instantly. By having a constant reading of what is occurring, a winemaker can reduce their costs, while improving the quality of their vino. Usually, samples are taken out almost daily and studied by a lab. That time-consuming practice would be eliminated.

Starts in Bordeaux

The folks at Watgrid have met with barrel makers (cooperages) to get their input and see about integrating the Winegrid system into barrels. In-turn, they’ve contacted wineries, and one has said yes, to this newest technolgogy: Chateau Lynch-Bages. Lynch Bages is in an area of Bordeaux, France, that amongst many well-known vineyard estates in the region is the infamous Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

Known for their excellent terroir, the 220 acre Lynch Bages estate is a famous winery themselves dating back to the mid-1700s. Lynch Bages 2015 vintage will be one of the first to test the Winegrid technology. They will monitor the wine to watch it evolve, measuring fermentation, color, temperature, along with sugar and alcohol levels. By the way, Lynch Bages is updating their facilities with the help of famous architect IM Pei’s sons.

The equipment will also be used in larger vats as well, since the wine is originally placed in steel vats before moving over to oak wine barrels. We shall soon hear about what goes on in the dark mysterious interiors of a wine barrel. And maybe learn more than anyone ever knew? Who knew wine barrels could be so interesting. 😉


Daryle W. Hier








California Wine Sales Are Up, But Tariffs Could Change That

The news from the Wine Institute was very good with sales of wines from California up in volume and value. However, a ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) could put a crimp in future growth for the Golden State.

According to the Wine Institutes’ figures, California wine shipments in the United States were up 4.4% in 2014. The value of those shipments is estimated to have been $24.6 billion, which is up 6.7% from 2013. Also, domestic and international combined wine sales improved 3.7% year over year.

Though drought has made life tougher for California winemakers over the past few years, Wine Institute President Bobby Koch said:

“California has had three excellent harvests in both quantity and quality in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and these vintages are receiving global recognition.”

Oh no, Canada

Still, not all the news is good in California. The WTO sustained a ruling regarding meat-labeling rules complaint by Canada that may likely lead to a trade-war – at least in North America. The ruling that was upheld, states that both Canada and Mexico can add duty tariffs to products including wine. Exports of vino in California would suffer, so the U.S. wine industry is asking Congress to intervene.

Ironically, California wine sales topped the one billion dollar mark this past year in exports to Canada, making them the single biggest consumer of U.S. wine. However, those sales could see a tumble if the presumed taxes from Canada increase substantially.

NOTE: Congress has made a move to help winemakers in U.S. Click here for more.


Daryle W. Hier







Do You Wine Taste?

Wine tasting has been taking off for some time and even regions where there aren’t vineyards, have wine tasting rooms to learn and enjoy the latest wines.

However, not eTobin_James-wine_tastingveryone has the luxury or convenience of sauntering down to the local wine tasting bar and saddle up for a sip of vino … or more. So with that we ask, have you ever done wine tasting and if so, how many times? Or are you a regular on the scene of any and every wine tasting opportunity that comes across?

Let us know and share with your friends, family and colleagues. We want to know: Do You Wine Taste?


Daryle W. Hier