Winemaking. Life. The Dirt. Alison Crowe is a Winemaker Based in Napa.

Un-Bunged! How to Properly Broach a Barrel

Winemaking 101:  How to Properly Un-Bung a Barrel


Ali in the stacks- ready to show you how to un-bung like a pro next time you’re at a barrel tasting



Worried you won’t know the proper protocol next time someone invites you barrel tasting? Applying for your first harvest job in the cellar and want to exhibit perfectly turned barrel-care etiquette? Don’t know your  bung-hole from your wine thief?  I’m here to help.  Here’s how to expertly broach a barrel.  Simplicity, swiftness (in the case of harvest intern barrel sampling work orders) and cleanliness (always!) are the rules of the game.




First step:  Gently rock the bung back and forth to dislodge.  Don’t just pull straight up.  Especially if there’s a vacuum, which is a good thing when the wine is aging, this will take a couple of tries.




Pull it out and place it wet end up on the barrel- very important!.  This keeps the portion that touches the wine clean.  The tops of barrels can be amazingly dusty and dirty.



Insert your barrel thief (yes, it really is called that!) into the bunghole (yes, it’s really called that too) with your finger out.  This way the wine floats up into the barrel thief’s tube for sampling.



Put your finger over the barrel thief to create a vacuum and trap a sample of wine.







Take it over to your glass and release your finger, letting the wine flow into your glass.



Take an appreciative swirl and sniff! Spit into a bucket or the drain (If you are a cellar intern, be sure that bottles are labeled appropriately, that you’ve siphoned out the requisite volume, and that caps are replaced tightly on the samples.  If you are a winery visitor, be sure your hip flask is unlabeled, you’ve siphoned out the requisite volume and the cap is replaced tightly before putting said flask into your hip pocket…….)





Replace the bung in the barrel and give it a good twist.









Now bang it with your fist so the bung is tight in there- a good seal is imperative for good aging!  Sometimes barrels can off-gas slightly during aging (carbon dioxide is often naturally produced during the process) so we don’t want any bungs popping off!    Once bunged up again tightly, hose off any wine drops that have dripped onto the top of the barrel.





Thanks for taking our un-bunging  tutorial.  May your glasses always be full, your pours generous and your bungs easy to remove!



photo credit:  Barbara Ignatowski, Garnet Vineyards Assistant Winemaker



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  1. When taking a barrel sample, i usually keep my finger over the hole of the thief until i have the thief inside the barrel, then remove my finger and allow the wine to fill the thief. By doing this, the sample will come from wine deeper than the surface. Wine close to the surface or bung hole is often not representative of the wine deeper in the barrel.

    Meg Tipton
    Assistant Winemaker
    Keuka Spring Vineyards
    Penn Yan, NY

    1. Meg, that is a great point! We can never forget that barrels are like small tanks, and indeed dissolved oxygen, VA, microbial life can be very different near the bung hole rather than deeper down. Using a long, clear siphon tube is another great way to get deeper samples.

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