Jeff Cook was convinced that art made from old wine barrels was a good idea, but like many entrepreneurs, he just wasn’t sure if everyone else was going to think so too.
A contractor by trade, Jeff left his business in 2005 and built a woodworking shop where he began creating commissioned furniture and custom cabinetry.
In 2007, Jeff and his wife, Debbie, were traveling through the North Georgia mountains and stopped to visit one of Jeff’s favorite wineries, Frogtown Cellars, owned by friend Craig Kritzer. While talking one day with Craig, Jeff mentioned he was looking for something he could create, something different and unique.
“Well,” Craig said, “What about wine barrels?”
Jeff wasn’t sure what he’d do with the wine barrels, but he followed Craig around the back of the vineyard and loaded a few wine barrels into the back of his truck.
“Those barrels sat outside under the tarps for six months,” Jeff said. They were pretty old, and the outsides were blackened. They’d been used and tossed aside.
Jeff removed the metal hoops from the barrels and watched as they rolled open onto the ground. “When I opened up the barrels, I was amazed at the colors, ranging from light pink to deep purple.” And Jeff thought, “This is starting to get interesting.”
So now the question became what to make. Jeff searched the internet and found tables, chairs, chandeliers, barrel coolers and giant bottle holders. “This stuff was expensive. It seemed like everything I saw was hundreds of dollars and was only available in the West Coast,” Jeff said. “I wanted to make things people would use. I didn’t want to make things that sat on a shelf trying to look good.”
As anyone who has an interest in wine finds out, that fosters an interest in a wide range of food. Since most wines are best when paired with food, Jeff decided that was the direction he’d take. Jeff crafts pieces that can be used every day. Early on in his research, Jeff decided on FDA-approved adhesives and finishes to seal his products with a coating he knew would be safe. Jeff’s next step: finding more barrels.
If you want retired wine barrels, there is only one state from which to get them: California. The only problem with that is you have to get a tractor-trailer truckload to make shipping the barrels 3,000 miles worth the cost. “So, we did it,” Jeff said. “We ordered 225 barrels with every dime we had. When the truck arrived, it was a day early and it was raining, but between Deb, my daughters, my next-door neighbor and myself, we turned our front yard into a sea of barrels. We looked at all those barrels and thought, ‘What have we done?’ ”
From there, Jeff hit the arts and crafts circuit in the North Georgia mountains and in Savannah. Jeff and his wife grew to love the art shows, befriending other vendors and customers who always stopped by his booth. Jeff feels his art is special, and so do others. Jeff enjoys seeing the excitement in people’s eyes when they pick up a piece and fall in love with its beauty, functionality and the fact that it is essentially re-used material. These barrels would have been discarded if Jeff wouldn’t have given them a second life as a beautiful piece of art.
At a Savannah show many years ago, we ran into Jeff selling his artful pieces on River Street. We think Jeff’s work is beautiful and fits perfectly with our belief in beauty, sustainability and recycling. We love being able to support talented local craftsmen, and Jeff is no exception. Jeff lives and works in Ellabell, Ga., and still personally makes his deliveries to Savannah Bee Company.