TOUCHET -- When most people look at an oak barrel, they envision a glass of wine or maybe a planter for flowers.
Ian Crawford sees furniture.
Crawford, 29, is the owner of Vinoture, a business that makes handcrafted furniture from used Washington wine barrels.
"The building medium is a waste product from one of the largest industries in Washington state," said the Kalispell, Mont., native, who has followed his dreams and business plans to the Walla Walla Valley.
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He is opening a showroom this Friday and Saturday in Touchet, just in time for the thousands of wine lovers driving east to Walla Walla for Spring Release Weekend. Vinoture is in a big, red barn on the north side of the highway.
Inside, Crawford will be showing off many of his products, from bar stools to high-back chairs to sconces to coat racks and robe hooks. Prices range from $15 for a robe hook to $5,000 and up for a full bar.
Crawford started the business six years ago. At the time, he didn't have much more than a dream and a vision, as he knew little about woodworking.
"I didn't own a single tool," he said with a laugh.
But he began to build and sell his creations at a farmers market in Kalispell. The owner of a Napa Valley winery happened to be in town, fell in love with his products and offered to trade him a few bar stools for 100 used barrels.
"That's when I first began to realize just how many barrels were out there," he said.
Since then, he has taken apart about 2,000 barrels -- and he really is just getting started. In late March, he had a booth at Taste Washington, a huge wine event in Seattle.
Charlie Hoppes, owner and winemaker at Fidelitas Wines on Red Mountain, stopped by and was impressed with his chairs. But Hoppes wanted something a little different, a taller high-back chair that Crawford hadn't yet designed. Within two days, Crawford had a prototype built and ready to show Hoppes, who ordered 20 on the spot and even provided some of the barrels for the project.
Nine days later, Crawford delivered the finished chairs in time for Fidelitas' annual wine club party. About 200 wine lovers showed up, and they were impressed by the furniture.
"The chairs perfectly fit what we were looking for," Hoppes said. "My wine club members were impressed big time."
Crawford has acquired barrels from more than 200 wineries across Washington, primarily from Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities, and about 20 wineries are regular suppliers, including Dunham Cellars, Pepper Bridge Winery and Basel Cellars, all in Walla Walla.
With the help of business partner Douglas Gisi, a Walla Walla metal artist, Crawford is working to get his high-end products into distribution through national furniture chains. He also hopes to open a retail store in Seattle this fall, a place where customers could sample wine while browsing for unique, handcrafted furniture.
Crawford does all the work with his lone employee, childhood friend Cameron Barge, a talented photographer and videographer who has worked with Cameron on various business ventures for a decade.
Together, they have more than 20 products, all made from wine barrels. And they are coming up with new ideas all the time, often staying up all night to work on designs and prototypes. In less than two minutes, they can take apart a wine barrel using special tools made only in France.
The insides of the barrels often are stained deep red from the syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon that were aged in them.
These colors make each piece of furniture different and beautiful.
"This is Syrah," he said after taking apart a barrel in his work area last week. "This is the really nice, amazing purple color that the public is looking for on the insides of their bar stool legs."
He uses every part of each barrel, from the heads, to the staves to the metal bands that hold barrels together.
"It's a sustainable practice, a perfectly closed-loop system where we're not wasting anything."
-- For information and to see Crawford’s furniture products, go to www.vinoture.net.
-- Stop by his showroom Friday or Saturday in Touchet.
* Andy Perdue is editor of Wine Press Northwest, a quarterly consumer magazine owned by the Tri-City Herald. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.