Tools of the Cellar Trade

As winemaking transitions from the vineyard to the winery, here are a few tools that winemakers and vintners can’t live without.

Most are aware of the towering vats, neat stacks of barrels and trusty forklifts that keep a winery ticking. With the fruit all in and November in full swing, a new cast of tools is called upon to expedite the evolution of a wine. Here are a few most vintners and cellar workers would rather not live without.

Lees Stirrer

Assuming the shape of a narrow golf putter, the lees stirrer offers an arm-extension of sorts. The narrow body fits through a barrel’s bunghole, allowing the loose foot of the stirrer to push around the settled lees – or, dead yeast cells – at the bottom. Lees stirring is known as bâtonnage in the Old World and is more common in white winemaking, although it can benefit certain reds as well.

The Must Plunger

Well-known as it may be within wine circles, this glorified plunger is to the harvest worker as a chef’s knife is to the cook. Outfitted with holes in its rubber head, this devices allows the cap of fermentations to be punched down, distributing flavors, tannin and all kinds of other microbiology evenly throughout the lot. Moreover, it allows for some temperature regulation, a welcome introduction of oxygen and yields pronounced triceps for the lucky soul in command of the punchdowns.

Bulldog Pup

A good old fashioned large-scale siphon can do the trick, but nothing beats the ease and speed of the Bulldog. This pressure racking wand can empty a 55-gallon barrel in just a few minutes, making it quite suitable for larger wine blends or simply moving product whenever necessary. The deep exhale the device takes after it empties a barrel is a sound that startles even the hardiest of winemakers.


Flashlights likely lead the list of objects found at the bottom of tanks when a wine is ultimately drained. Access to hands-free light in a dark cellar is paramount and the headlamp covers all bases. From eyeing fill-levels while barreling down wine to identifying lots in dimly-lit, tightly-stacked rows, the headlamp is your savior.

Barrel Washer

Sanitizing a barrel requires a clever tool that can turn out both the pressure and range needed. Enter the barrel washer, a hose attachment with an L-shaped head that fits neatly inside of an inverted barrel and boasts a small but complex nozzle to ensure that every square inch of the barrel’s interior is washed clean.

Topping Gun

The topping gun is used to add wine to barrels to keep levels high and oxidation at bay. Often hooked up to inert gas to fight gravity’s pull, the gun is fit with a simple lever for dispensing and a crooked, narrow mouth to get into barrels. Equally important is enough hose length to get you up to the fourth of fifth story of barrels with some wiggle room to spare.

Boxed Wine

Every lab needs a control. There’s little more manufactured and chemically reliable than a box of Franzia or a jug of Carlo Rossi, wine you can essentially set your watch to. What these wines lack in character they make up for in scientific flawlessness. Winemakers use the basic chemistry of these wines as a reference point for analyzing samples as well as calibrating much-needed equipment.

The Tri-Clamp

A carpenter never enters a job without a hammer. A vintner’s functional cellar is never out of tri-clamps. These clamps offer the glue to just about everything in winemaking, from connectivity between pumps and tanks to adapters, valves, hoses and an infinite number of specialty pieces. In short, it is the tri-camp that can move the entirety of your largest production wine from one end of the winery to the other, without so much as losing more than a few drops.

Story and illustrations by Mark A. Stock |
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon who spent a healthy stretch in the Dundee Hills making, selling and drinking wine. He’s written for Willamette Week, Oregon Wine Press, Travel Oregon, Sip Northwest, SevenFifty and more. Fly-fishing, Icelandic soccer and The Simpsons are among his favorite distractions.