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Dispatches from Behind the Counter: The Woes of Wooden Wine Boxes
By Christy Frank
Nov 9, 2022
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Editor's Note:  For Wine Review Online readers who've yet to enjoy a column by our wickedly witty Christy Frank, you should know that she's a successful wine retailer in New York, offering ever-interesting insights for consumers and others not involved in that facet of the industry.  Here's the intro from her previous column, just to get you properly introduced:  "It’s been nearly 15 years that I have been deeply involved in the independent retail side of this business.  Over that time, I’ve become a go-to resource for people who are charmed and intrigued at the thought of opening a cute little wine shop of their own.  So, with that in mind, I’ve started to round up some of my favorite questions.  I’ll work into these columns on a semi-regular basis and try to it light enough that it makes sense for anyone looking for a glimpse of what it’s like to own a shop."

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Dispatches from Behind the Counter:  The Woes of Wooden Wine Boxes

Does the thought of a wooden wine box make your pulse race with desire?  Does it evoke visions of DIY projects and cause your Pinterest fingers to twitch?  Do you picture the side panels as chic wainscotting in your wine cellar (even if you don’t actually have a wine cellar?)  Maybe you see a new set of bookshelves?  Or cute little side tables?  Perhaps the perfect storage system for your vinyl collection or all those New Yorker magazines you’ve been piling up for years?

Or does the thought fill you with a low-grade sense of dread and loathing.  (And the sudden realization that you need a screwdriver – the literal kind – and don’t know where you put it.)

If it’s the former, you’re not alone.  At my shop, we get regular requests to buy the handful of boxes we use for display.  Or to “keep us in mind” if more arrive, which is not often.  Given that we’re in the center of nowhere and don’t have a massive collector clientele, I don’t often buy full cases of the sorts of wines that come in wood.

But back when I had a shop in the city, wooden boxes arrived at the store much more frequently, both with fancy wines and rather ridiculously, a sub-$10 bottle of Chilean red that insisted on shipping in wood (mercifully, they eventually switched to cardboard).  We would put the boxes on the curb in front of the store and they would be gone within the hour (we know this because we used to take bets on how long they would last).  Some people would ask if they could take them for free, but most would just grab and run.

As for me, I fall firmly on the dread and loathing side of the box scale.

Of course, I have a theory about this. I propose that the esteem placed on wooden boxes is disproportionately related to the amount of time spent unpacking them and pulling the bottles out.  So, the longer you spend in the wine-receiving side of the wine business, generally, the more you grow to hate them.

This shift is a gradual process.  At my first wine shop job, way back in the day, I remember happily trucking home box after wooden wine box.  I installed wooden wine box bookshelves.  I had wooden wine box towel holders resting on wooden wine box tables.  My favorite?  Wooden wine box CD holders (it was the 90s, and call me uncool, but I just wasn’t that into vinyl).  I couldn’t understand why my boss was so keen to release such precious treasure into my hands.  

Later, when I owned my own shop, I began to notice a growing sense of contempt whenever a wooden box arrived off the delivery truck.  Trying to understand it, I remembered something about my first wine shop job – it had been part-time.  Weekends and the occasional weeknight evening.  These are not the times when wooden wine boxes (or any boxes) are being delivered. I never had to open them – I was free to revel in their loveliness without having to dig out the toolbox needed to get into them.

So, there are phases involved, the major thought process of each is noted below.

Phase 1 – Intense Adoration: Wooden boxes are so cool!  I can use them to panel my basement.  Or make a table out of them.  Or turn them into planters. I could live in a wooden wine box if it were big enough!  I can’t believe the owner/manager is actually letting me take home all the wooden boxes I want!  This job is fantastic!!!

Phase 2 – Moderated Respect:  I’m a little more discriminating now since I already have 23 snazzy wine box planters.  And enough stacked in the corner to panel my entire basement… except I keep forgetting I don’t have a basement.  I’ll just wait for some high-end Bordeaux boxes to arrive.  Those will look great on my imaginary wall.

Phase 3 – Mild Annoyance:  Great, more wooden boxes to open.  Where’s the hammer again?  And they certainly are heavier than the plain old cardboard ones.  But still, they do look awfully cool….

Phase 4 – Utter Contempt:  Can’t find the hammer…maybe I can just rip the top off……ouch, splinter!  And I still need that stupid hammer so I can pound down these stupid nails so the customers don’t hurt themselves when they run off with them.  And do they really need to put the $10 bottles in a wooden box? Really?????  The box has got to cost as much as the bottles!  Don’t they care about their carbon footprint?  Don’t they care that I just got yet another splinter?  Don’t they care that I can never find the hammer when I need it?

To be completely honest, I can fall back to Phase 2 when I come across a really great box that doesn’t require a hammer to open.  (But never back to Phase 1; I’m way too far down the path for that.)  I remember one from years back that used a sliding panel as the lid, with a cute little clasp to keep it closed.  It was impressive and sturdy and only required one little screw to open it up.  It would have made an excellent tool box.  I could have kept my hammer in it.

How to Open a Wooden Wine Box

Step 1: Find your hammer and flat edge screwdriver.  No, not the little one that lives under the counter – the full size one.  Yes, it needs to be a flat edge.

Step 2: Starting on one of the short sides, use the hammer to gently pound the screwdriver between the lid and the top edge of the box.  Notice where the nails are and start near one of them.  The lid is sturdier here and it is less likely to splinter.

Step 3 to 12ish.  Repeat next to multiple nails all along the edge of the box.  Take your time – if you go too quickly you could damage the box and make it difficult to use for future craft projects!  Once you get really good at this, you can remove the lid with four well-placed screwdriver taps.  But trust me – you are not good at this yet.  Take.  Your.  Time.

Step 8 to 13ish:  Gently remove the lid.  If you’ve done this right, the nails will still be sticking out of the lid.  If you didn’t, you’ll have bits of nails still in the box and holes in the lid.  (You really should have trusted me and just taken your time.)  Be careful – those nails are pointy.

Emergency Step:  Find the first aid kit because yes, you nicked yourself on a pointy nail.  Curse loudly because someone used all the band-aids and didn’t tell you they needed to be replaced.

Final Step:  Use the hammer to either remove the nails or to pound their pointy bits into the wood.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP because those little nails?  They’re lawsuits waiting to happen.