After spending 42 years as a winemaker, Peter Ruchs knows his way around a barrel, and has given hundreds of them a second chance at life.
“It’s amazing technology, a barrel,” he explains.
“The timber is beautiful. It’s the best timber of the tree and after that comes furniture, so it’s really just lovely timber to work with.
“And being a winemaker, when you’re sanding it, you can smell the vanilla, the spice, all that sort of stuff that’s in the wood, and you get to really know a barrel once you start pulling them apart and working on them.”
During his time as a winemaker, Peter would get home and play around with old wine barrels in his shed, just creating things like timber platters for fun.
Eventually, he joined forces with his daughter, Kristal Spencer, who had started noticing people were showing interest in her dad’s craft, and together they turned this hobby into a business – Winestains.
“We specialise in grazing boards and picnic products to enhance your food and wine experience, in a nutshell,” Kristal says.
Everything Kristal and Peter sell is made of recycled barrels from across the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills, and 11 years since the pair went into business, they are still always eager to find more wineries to salvage them from.
Peter follows a process over days to make a single product, and he loves having control over the end result.
“Whatever I do, I will usually try and do myself,” he says.
“My dad was handy, and all my brothers are the same, so I’ve just grown up with it. You don’t get someone in if you can do it yourself.”
Self-determination runs in the family, too.
Kristal says, “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to do something for myself. It was in my blood. I always had these business ideas.”
Kristal had clear plans for what kind of product she wanted to market, and how she wanted Winestains to stand out from the crowd.
“I kind of wanted to reinvent things,” Kristal says.
“I wanted to modernise it and make it a bit more luxe, and I wanted to tell the story of the wine barrel and the past life of this timber, because I think that’s kind of cool to understand where something has come from.
“What we really love about what we do is we honour the history of the product – where it originated from.
“The end user, they get a little postcard, and it acknowledges the winery, so they get to know the story and they get to understand where it’s come from.”
Kristal laughs about how, when listening to her and her dad talk, you hear two very different sides of the business.
“When dad’s talking, he’s definitely talking about the barrels and quality control and all that stuff,” she says.
“When you hear me talking, I’m talking about the end user result and the marketing side of things … telling the story and getting people involved in what we’re doing.”
Despite being opposites by nature, they tend to complement each other’s work styles perfectly.
“I think it’s why we’re such a great team,” Kristal says.
“We are both hard workers, it’s in our blood, and he’s got his side of the business and I’ve got mine, so we don’t really step on each other’s toes.
“We’re able to put our two skill sets together and I think that’s why it’s worked so well for so long doing what we’re doing. We’re continuously evolving and listening.”
Peter agrees, adding, “That blend of young and old, I think in any business, is a good thing as well. It works pretty well; we don’t clash, and we don’t argue too much.
“I have two daughters, one is exactly like me so we clash a bit, but Kristal is probably a bit more like her mum,” he jokes.
Just like most families, food has been a central part of home life for Kristal and Peter, and they make an effort to reflect the value of that in their business.
“In my friendship circle, we have a gang of eight and at least every week we meet at someone’s place, and its shared food and platters. Everyone brings a board or something,” Peter says.
“And then every Friday night, Kristal and the kids come over and we do pizzas. It’s really nice to have the kids over, it’s a bit of chaos but it’s good.”
“Food and wine just bring people together,” Kristal adds.
“It’s that whole communal thing – creating connection and just having that moment to sit down and have a friend over or catch up with family, and it’s always done over food on the table.
“Being part of that is pretty awesome.”