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Jenga Barrels! How Clever Napans Untangle The Quake Jumble & Avoid More Disaster


A typical, 59-gallon wine barrel weighs about 120 pounds empty and 600 pounds full.

But after an earthquake, you need to think of barrels full of ultra-top-quality Napa Valley wine as as a mountain of $20,000 Jenga blocks — precariously jumbled and ready to avalanche at the wrong move or the next aftershock.

Climbing among or over the barrels can start them moving and can crush the unfortunate barrel climber. Even without bodily injury, pulling the pile apart can dislodge a bung and start spilling the expensive wine.


First, you need something that can pluck a single barrel out of the boulder field.

Two people who really know barrels are Phil Burton who owns Barrel Builders, and Mike Blom who owns Barrelcare. They came up with two different solutions that work.


Barrel Builder barrel sling.

Barrel Builder barrel sling. Fabricated by York Machine Works, St. Helena.


Barrelcare sling.

Barrel Care sling. Fabricated by Scott DiGiacomo of Napa.

Carefully… Carefully

I spent about half an hour at Barrel Care in Napa, watching a talented and cautious team tease apart the mountain of barrels. Because the pile was so high and unstable, it was too dangerous to have a person climbing over the pile. So Barrel Care used a crane with a personnel platform. That made it safe, but never easy.

It takes five to ten minutes to get a barrel out from start to finish. Occasionally a bung would pop out. Everyone scrambled and the worker in the basket managed a series of world-class olympic maneuvers to get a new bung hammered in.

NOTE: Click on an image to enlarge.,


Find the right barrel


Attach the sling


Pull hard.


Out the barrel comes.


Sometimes the right barrel is hard to get to.


Once the sling is attached, the worker makes sure it’s secure.



Hang on tight! The process of extracting a barrel can be a really jerky, bumpy ride.



Out the barrel comes.



Once the barrel is down, another sling is used to put it on a rack. Now, rinse and repeat.

Some barrels don't make it out of the pile alive.

Sadly, some barrels don’t make it out of the pile alive.