Nothing says wine country like wine barrels, except perhaps for handmade wine bars crafted from refurbished ones. That’s exactly what Kevin and Jill Bailey thought when their daughter came to them requesting something to be used as the bar for her rustic-chic themed wedding.
“It started as a result of our daughter getting married last year at Sonnenberg Gardens,” said Jill Bailey. “She had the reception there and you have to bring everything in, so she asked Kevin if he could make a bar using wine barrels.” Kevin is Jill’s husband, and also a craftsman, refurbisher of barrels and retired Marcus Whitman schoolteacher. In a region like the Finger Lakes, a wedding and special event hot spot, the Baileys knew they were on to something, and in the right area to do it. Thus, Wine Country Bar Rentals was born – an up-and-coming family business, inspired by the Finger Lakes wine industry.
“We had a large configuration of two bars put together,” said Jill, describing the bar they made for their daughter’s wedding. “It made a nice setting for 200 people and we thought ‘wow what a great idea, we should start renting them.’ So we acquired the barrels, which we try to do here and there when we can, and we thought we would just start, especially in this area, renting them for weddings, corporate events, grad parties, anything like that.”
Kevin came up with the original design and they have grown from there, with three different options for renters to choose from: the Riesling, a standard straight bar with two barrels; the Chardonnay, a cozy three to four barrel corner bar; and the Brut, a six to eight barrel rectangular bar and spectacular centerpiece for large events. They also rent individual barrels without the bar tops, for use as podiums and such, but at least two must be rented at a time.
When Jill’s husband picks up the barrels they are in no state for display, but he cleans them up to look almost like new. Once he’s done, every barrel and bar surface is finished with a boat-top polyurethane finish that makes them shiny, more durable and resistant to spills or outdoor weather.
“Many rental companies have a barrel-type bar, but it’s really just two barrels with a plank,” said Jill. “This dresses it up and we can have different configurations so it works with any of the customer’s spaces, and we hope that will accommodate people.”
Canandaigua chocolatier Sweet Expressions allowed them to set up one of their Riesling bars in front of their Main Street store for the Wine Walk in downtown Canandaigua, where of-age patrons can sample local wines at local shops.
“We were also at the Riesling Festival this past August,” said Jill. “We offered to supply bars for some of the wineries and that allowed us some exposure as well. We rented one to a wedding in Webster and Hobart College used one for a reunion held on their campus.”
So far, the brand-new business has already started renting out to events this year and is extending a 15 percent discount to anyone who books their services through the month of January 2015.
Small family, small business
“Our daughter and her husband’s wedding was the catalyst,” said Jill. “Our son is in college right now but we’re hoping he’ll join the family business to help set up.” It’s definitely a family-run show, from inception to execution.
A quaint little drive through the scenic Finger Lakes back roads leads you to their Canandaigua home, which is where the business is based. You can even catch a peek of Canandaigua Lake from their side porch. The site has been home to the Bailey family for decades and was a farm until the 1940s.
The family delivers within a 35-mile radius, which encompasses Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, most of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, and extends up to Lake Ontario.
Small business, small inventory
“People have asked to purchase the barrels but we don’t want to be in the business of selling,” said Jill.
And it’s no wonder because it can be difficult to acquire the special barrels. Wineries are obviously in need of them but many local artisans seek them out as well.
“There are a number of craftsmen who buy barrels and take them apart to make various decorative items like tea-light holders or picture frames,” said Jill. Some of the barrels they find through word of mouth from private owners in the area.
“We don’t supply the bartenders unfortunately,” said Jill with a laugh. “We’ve had some questions about that.”
by Lisa Maria Rickman