Friday, November 27, 2015

How To Read a Wine Crate Label

Ever look at a wooden wine crate or box and wonder where it's from? Did you want to find out more about it or learn what kind of history it has? I certainly have and it's not always easy to do!

There are several thousand wineries in the world and only a small fraction of them make wooden wine crates. Fortunately this guide also applies to wines packaged in cardboard.

Some wine crates and boxes have many details on the vineyard, grape type and producer, but some only have a unique picture logo and a small amount of lettering. The rest is a mystery.

I can show you how to determine where most labels are from with certainty, but there'll be a few that you'll come across that may stump or trick you.

First the easiest and by far my favorite wine making country: France. Specifically Bordeaux:

Determining that a wine crate is from Bordeaux is the easiest thing to do once you know what to look for. Almost all have the designation (Grand Cru or Cru Bourgeois - Grand Cru being the best) the name of the winery and the vintage.

Here's another example:

The one detail missing from the Haut-Bages Liberal crate is the part of Bordeaux in which the wine is from or the "Sub-region" which is shown above on the Dauzac crate (Margaux)

Most Bordeaux wine crates detail the following characteristics from top to bottom based on level of importance:
  • Designation or Classification
  • The Winery
  • Sub-region
  • Vintage
Lastly, odds are that if the crate is designed to hold 12 bottles it's most likely from Bordeaux.

And that's the Bordeaux region in a nutshell. Since Bordeaux follows a set of rules called the AOC (Appellation Origine Controlee) you'll find a great deal of consistency from winery to winery.

Burgundy on the other hand is a more complex wine making region in France. The AOC of Burgundian vineyards isn't as strict in regards to conformity of branding therefore there's more of an artistic license given to the vineyards. Ironically Burgundy maintains a much more of an old world pretense where that freedom of artistic license is far more subtle.

There aren't nearly as many wineries from Burgundy that make wine crates. Bordeaux is by far the leader in that department.

Most Burgundy vineyards make 6 bottle wine boxes. Some make the 12 bottle size:

The Classification of vineyards is the most important here, and those classifications are based heavily on the sub-region aka Commune as well as the single vineyard(s) that the grapes were chosen from. There are essentially 3 types of fine Burgundy wine classifications:

Grand Cru or 1er (The best)
Premier Cru (Second best)
Bourgogne (Third best)

I don't want to get too much into classifications because there's enough on that subject to write a book. We're talking only about wine labels so let's get into Burgundy:

You can generally assume a French crate is from Burgundy if you see Domaine on it. You'll never see Chateau. You can also assume the vineyard is either Premier or Grand Cru and it's exceptional.

For the most part:

  • Domaine = Burgundy
  • Chateau = Bordeaux
Also, If you see the producer's first and last name the odds are that the crate is from Burgundy. All Burgundy wines are either made from Chardonnay (Whites) or Pinot Noir (Reds) grapes. If you see Chablis on a crate it's definitely from Burgundy.

Next up is the most complex wine making country in the World: Italy

There's 22 major wine making regions in Italy and over 100 sub regions inside those major regions. Each one has a fairly similar primary culture but each has a very different sub-culture from the others. These differences make mastering Italian wines a life-long endevour.

In this case we'll just take a few Italian wooden wine boxes and reasonably explain how you can determine whether or not its from Italy:

Some Italian wine crates have very little evidence they're from Italy. You can get tricked into believing it's possibly from Spain except for a few subtle exceptions:
  • European Cote of Arms designs are only found in old world regions (France, Italy and Portugal)
  • Marchesi Antinori is one of the most famous Italian wine makers
  • Solaia is one of the most famous Italian wines
Super-Tuscan wines of Italy are a fairly new phenomena, and the most famous ones make wooden wine crates and boxes to store and protect their wines. Super-Tuscan vineyards take Bordeaux grape vines and plant them in rich Italian soil, and they keep certain Bordeaux traditions such as making large 12 bottle wine crates and adding a vintage to them (Many Italian vineyards don't display the vintage on their wine crates). Below is the famous Sassicaia Super-Tuscan:

"Italia" on the bottom left is a dead give-away this crate is from Italy, and the vintage indicates Super-Tuscan. 

The vast majority of Italian wine crates don't have Italia engraved on them though, but some wineries display a great deal of information like the Castel Giocondo:

Clearly the Castel Giocondo is from Italy based on the following:
  • Riserva = Italian (Reserve = US and Reserva = Spain)
  • Frescobaldi is a famous noble family from Tuscany
  • Brunello Di Montalcino is a famous major wine region of Italy
Now we'll get into Napa:

Most US domestic wineries put alot of details on their wine crates. Since there's no rules for conformity in the US such as the AOC, Napa vineyards are free to do whatever they want in regards to standing out and branding themselves.

There's alot of information on the Harlan Estate "The Maiden" flat wooden wine case. No problem on quickly identifying.

Another one:

The Nickel and Nickel also provides alot of winery details, and also even provides the grape type (Cabernet Sauvignon). My favorite aspect of the winery is that they use the special single vineyard style of Burgundy and the grape vines of Bordeaux for planting in Napa Valley. This is why Nickel and Nickel is so famous. 

Last on the Napa list is the most prominent wine of all of Napa: Screaming Eagle

Some Screaming Eagle crates have details on them and some don't. If you get into fine domestic wines, your going to hear about Screaming Eagle very quickly. This is probably why Screaming Eagle doesn't provide many identifying details. Every US domestic wine enthusiast is familiar with it.

So we've gone through France, Italy and Napa. Up next is the Spain:

Spain is often confused with Italy and vice-versa if your not familiar. This is especially the case if your wine enjoyment focus is primarily US domestic, and are unfamiliar with the nuances of the Mediterranean wine world.

Spanish vineyards are usually confused with Italian vineyards because there's so few details on them:

There are 2 subtle indications that this is a Spanish vineyards:
  • La Nieta is a specific dialect of the Spanish language that can only be found in Spain
  • The Spanish style architecture. 
Here's another:

Same situation on the Spanish architecture, but the name indicates a possible Italian vineyard (but not really). Names of Italian wines are usually more elegant and elaborate. A one word name tends to be more modern and indicative of the New World.

This is a difficult Spanish vineyard to determine:

Remember the "Riserva" on the Castel Giocondo? Here's where that comes into play. Take a look at the fanciful text lettering below the Prado Enea and you'll notice "Gran Reserva". This is clearly a Spanish winery. Riserva = Italy and Reserva = Spain.

Another tricky Spanish vineyard:

Another point on regional dialects of the Spanish language: Bodegas = Spain and Bodega = South America

Lastly we explore South America, Portugal and Australia:

You'll generally find alot of details and indicators from vineyards in these countries. This Almaviva is a good example:

Clearly from Chile and includes all the details you need plus the vintage. It's made by Baron Phillippe Rothschild so you know it's going to be both good and pricey. 

Here's another Baron Rothschild vineyard and it's also from Chile. Has lots of details too.

There aren't many South American vineyards and fortunately they're easy to detect. One of the most famous from Argentina is below:

Fortunately the Achval Ferrer details that it's from Argentina on the bottom right hand side. Not all Argentinian crates or boxes have this detail though, so the "Bodega" dialect aspect will at least allow you to narrow down a region if needed.

This sums up the two most well known South American wine making countries which are Chile and Argentina. I don't mean to count out the other South American countries that make wine, but none that I know make wooden wine crates or boxes to package their wines.

Australia is next on deck and you can easily confuse them with US domestic or Napa wineries 

I've confused Australian and US domestic wine crates many times. Both have similar styles such as thick wood sides and lettering in English. Australian vineyards however tend to focus more heavily on either the region of Australia they come from, or the name of the vineyard itself. Most domestics display "Napa Valley" or the sub-region (city) that it's from in fairly small text. Australian vineyards on the other hand display those details boldly similar to how the wines themselves are: Also, the most famous grape from Australia is Shiraz.

Another Australian indicator is the fact that the country's wineries don't ever seem to make large 12 bottle wine crates. Most are either medium-sized 6 bottle wine boxes or 6 bottle flat wine cases like below:

Barossa and Clarendon Hills are two of the most well-known and recognized Australian wine making regions.

Last but not least we present Portugal which are by far the easiest wine boxes and crates to recognize. They all say Port on them! 

Portugal is considered an old world wine country but it has an entirely different culture than any other European country. The only similarity that traditional wine has with Port is that they're both made from grapes. Port however elegantly fortifies with Brandy.

In this example we have a very famous Port from Taylor Fladgate that got very high scores from Wine Spectator. The name of this wine is Vargellas Vinha Velha, but it's from the Quinta De Vargellas portfolio. This is another way that Port marches to the beat of it's own drummer.

Wood from Portugal is distinctive in the sense that it's typically more dense and rich colored than most other European wine crates. It tends to last long and age slowly. We had a Port crate from the late 1800's and it was in surprisingly good shape.

Do you have a wine crate or you can't identify? Feel free to send me a picture and I'll try to help


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How To Measure Your Walls for Wine Crate Panels

Wooden wine crate panels can be placed like tiles to cover walls, ceilings, floors, bar fronts, table-tops and just about any kind of surface space. The most common question we get is: "How many wine panels do I need to cover my Wall?"

I don't find math to be very engaging literature but there's no way around it..

So here's our wine panel sizing formula using an example of this framed wine panel wall sectional shown in the picture below:

1. Take a tape measure from left to right. This will give you the length which is 60 inches.

2. Now measure from top to bottom. This gives you the height which is 48 inches.

3. 60 inches = 5 feet (60 / 12)

4. 48 inches = 4 feet (48 / 12)

5. Multiply 5 X 4 = 20 square feet

6. The framed wall sectional is 20 square feet. 

7. On average 2 wine panels covers approx. a square foot.

8. 20 X 2 = 40 

9. Approx. 40 panels were needed to cover this sectional. It happens to only have 37 panels because the top panels on it were longer than the others. Not all wine panels are the same size so we have to approximate.

Most surfaces may not be as easy to cover as the framed sectional which is a fairly straightforward DIY. A wall on the other hand may have a door, window, fixture or division like the picture below:

In this case the sizing formula remains the same, but you'll need to measure each section of the space individually. You may need to trim some of the panels to fit making this kind of project more complex, and it may require a contractor or designer. Fortunately wine panels projects are often quick jobs for professionals.

The great thing about wine panel decorations is they make for incredibly unique projects. There are hundreds of different wineries with different designs and wood grain colors. They're also limited pieces of classical artwork with history dating back a millennia. Your wine panel covering is guaranteed to be exclusive. Your guests will be fascinated and engaged.

Feel free to take a look at some of the wine panel pictures given to us by clients to spark some creative juices. 

You can also visit the Wine Panels page to purchase them when your ready to start a project. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

6 Wine Crate Furniture Ideas for Contractors

DIY wine crate ideas are very popular, but contractors also use them to create unique furniture for their clients. These kinds of special wine-themed pieces are usually add-ons to current work being done, but a surprising number of people are contracting professionals specifically for the purpose of wine crate/wine panel decorative enhancements. These kinds of ideas are perfect for architects and woodworkers as well.

Over the years Winepine has provided the wine crates and panels for a stunning array of wine-themed shelving, tables and decoration pieces. Today I give you 6 of my favorite wine crate furniture ideas that were professionally created, and in which the wine crates or wine panels came from us. We don't have the plans for these projects but hopefully they'll drum up some creative juice for your own unique wine crate creation!

This is a unique credenza made for an exclusive country club in Washington DC. The shelf door fronts were replaced with wooden wine crate panels.

Custom kitchen wine racks with a wine crate shelving base. This decorative accent was created by an artist/interior decorator. The racks, center shelves and wine crates were all varnished with a matching cherry stain

Wine-themed library made with wine crate shelving to hold books. Each wine crate is built into the wall and slide out to reveal the individual crate bookshelves.

Below is the table for the San Diego Padres Stadium Wine bar. Each panel was specially chosen by the interior decorator on the project based on the wine list. There were also a half dozen custom SD logo panels added into the montage.

This is a joint project made by a cabinet maker and finish carpenter. It's a custom built storage nook for an Italian restaurant. The back of the nook is a collection of assorted wine panels that were varnished and stained to protect from wear-and-tear, while giving the piece a distressed color accent.

My personal favorite is below and is a recent project. It's a bar table-top made of Grand Cru original wine crates that were epoxy-varnished to produce a glass-like look and feel.

Visit Winepine -

Or give us a call: 914-565-0134

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Schafer Hillside Select Wooden Wine Case

Hillside Select is the premier wine of the Schafer vineyard portfolio. Just about every vintage wins awards, receives high accolades and averages 95 points. There's a fairly large production on this single vineyard, but vintages are held back for four years. 

It's possible to buy single bottles of Hillside Select in the open market, but it's unlikely that the original wooden wine case would be included if you bought 6 bottles. This is due to the fact that when a vintage is released it comes complete with the case. Individual bottles for sale at the moment are often the result of cellar liquidations or private buys of incomplete collections. In order to get your hands on an original wine case it will most likely need to be purchased separately from the wine.

Country: USA

Region: California

Sub-Region: Stags Leap, Napa Valley

Established: 1972

Production: Approx. 6,400 cases per year

Grape: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Crate design: Extra large flat wooden wine case with an exceptionally detailed picture of the vineyard engraved on the flip-top style lid. Two of the other short sides of the crate are engraved with the vineyard logo lettering.

Rarity: Uncommon due to the fact that Hillside Select is all-Cabernet Sauvignon and designed to be put down for 20 years to peak. This means that most past and future wooden wine cases of Hillside Select will be cellared and saved for either auction or optimal drinking conditions.

Crate designation: Exclusive ($75.00) 

*We don't have any in stock

Our opinion/history: The Hillside Select wooden wine case is highly durable, thick, heavy and ornate. The Stag's Leap region is the birthplace of Napa Cult Wines and everyone loves them. When we're able to acquire 1 or a few of these cases they sell out quickly.

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