More than three decades ago, Frank Villas designed a livestock brand, The Rockin V; a clever combination of his initials cradled in a curved rocker rail. He also developed a side business making useful, beautiful objects from different parts of a used wine barrel.
“My family has been in the Napa Valley since the 1920s,” said Howard Glover, nephew of Villas, who now runs The Rockin V Wine Barrel Creations. “Many in our family have worked in the wine business. In 1980, my grandmother was one of the first people to have a job in the wine tasting room at Silver Oak.”
That’s another tradition carried on by Glover. He spends half of his working life building wine barrel furniture and art and the other half — yes, in the wine tasting room at Silver Oak Cellars.
“Most of my life I’ve spent building things” Glover said. “My dad was a homebuilder and as an adult, I worked in construction. I’ve been in the wine business for seven or eight years now.”
He always admired the décor and furniture crafted by his Uncle Frank. In 2020, the older man asked Glover if he was interested in taking over the business.
“I didn’t give it five seconds of thought before I said, ‘Of course.’ Now I carry on the family tradition.”
Glover uses an advertising option unavailable in the first years of The Rockin V. Social media, including Instagram and Etsy, showcase the wine barrel wares. The Rockin V Instagram account shows an array of artfully crafted wine barrel designs. From trays and candle holders to wine cabinets and dog beds, anything Glover or one of his customers imagines, he will try to create.
“I put together ideas with solutions,” said Glover. “People will call to pick my brain. It’s what I like most: the creativity of it. When I worked as a handyman, I did the same thing: coming up with answers to needs.”
There is a lot of competition in wine barrel design industry. A crafting site such as Etsy has a plethora of wine and whiskey barrel items for sale from all over the country. Many of them look crude and sometimes amateurish.
“What differentiates my items is that I pay attention to finishes. They’re not rough but smooth. Sanding and sealing brings out the wood grain and the rich red color of the Cabernet once stored in it. That’s what sets my work apart.”
Most of the barrels he uses are American oak, made by a cooperage in Missouri and procured from Silver Oak Cellars. He also sometimes uses French oak barrels, which have a slightly more rustic look, from Keenan Winery.
His best-selling furniture item isn’t a planter, chair, or a barstool. It’s not even for humans.
“The most popular item is the dog bed, Glover said. “They go like crazy. During Christmas, I was selling four or five a week and sending them all over the U.S.”
Lately, for no specific reason Glover understands, folks in El Dorado County can’t seem to get enough of his multi-level planters.
The second runner-up in popularity are his Lazy Susan rotating barrel ends. The most recent additions to his line are dog feeders.
“They’re a half-barrel shape, designed to fit up against a wall. Two bowls nestle into holes on the top. The dog feeders are $125 each.”
Prices range from $125 for a Lazy Susan, $150 for a dog bed and higher depending on the item’s size and complexity.
What’s next for Glover?
“I’ve ordered hardware to start making full barrel fire pits using propane. I think that’ll be fantastic. I enjoy doing bigger projects like that, but there’s just me and only so much time.”
He has no significant plans to expand the business, content with the quality and quantity he’s currently producing. Recently he relocated to a woodworking shop in the Alta Heights area with a studio space underneath it that suits him.
Glover pauses when asked why people are drawn to creations made from wine barrels.
“Wine has a mystique around it that people enjoy,” he said. “There’s history in the barrel. I take satisfaction knowing that the deep color comes from the best cabernet in the world. I love it.”
Glover realizes that the art is his legacy and someday he’ll have to pass the business on to the next generation. Although he doesn’t have children, he knows it will stay in the family.
“The Rockin V motto is, ‘Continuing the family tradition with laughter and love,’” Glover said.
Uncle Frank must be proud.
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