New wine racks using old barrels

A minor change in his business plan meant big changes for Chet Bassetti, owner of the Barrel Rack.

Bassetti founded the Barrel Rack a few years ago after designing a wine-storage system made from new wine barrels for his house at St. James Village off the Mount Rose Highway. His friends dug the idea so much Bassetti started making additional barrel racks for friends and soon he had contracted with a barrel-maker known as a hooper to build the racks and ship them to customers throughout the U.S.

But Bassetti recently switched to using old wine barrels scavenged from Napa-area wineries, and the change meant that instead of running the business on the back end, he now spends his days making the wine-storage systems in his garage.

Old, used barrels add more authenticity to the product patina, wine stains and other marking on the barrels and hoops make them feel like a true piece of the Napa Valley, Bassetti says. But aged barrels vary in size and shape depending on which hooper made them, and every one of the 59-gallon barrels he gets has to be made to proper specifications.

"You don't know what you are getting until you have them," says Bassetti, who cleans the barrels, cuts them to size, and sands and stains them as well as restores the hoops.

A former engineer, Bassetti has purchased wood-working tools and ramped up his woodworking skills. He's also developed a streamlined processes to ensure he's maximizing his time making the barrels, and he's putting together a workflow chart to eventually train others to make the storage systems. As sales ramp up, he says, he'll contract the barrel-making process to a Reno-based woodworking shop.

But increased sales could bring a new problem: procurement. Bassetti says he's contacted a few Napa Valley wineries about buying their old barrels, but currently he doesn't have a steady supplier.

"You would think wineries are looking for outlets for their old barrels, but it hasn't been as easy as sounds," he says. "Right now we are using a third-party supplier, but we are looking to establish long-term relationships with a few wineries to control inventory and the size of barrels."

Self-performing much of the work allows Bassetti to shave weeks off delivery times for orders, and well as to provide higher levels of customization, such as using different stains, hoops or imprinting logos onto the finished product.

The Barrel Rack also has hired some marketing and sales support and completely revamped its Web site. Atlas Web Development of Carson City provided the fresh online presence, and Ruckus Visual Arts provided photos of the new-look wine-storage systems.

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