Fortified Wines

A fortified wine is a wine to which a distilled spirit has been added. Distilled spirits were added to wines to preserve them so they could be transported to distant markets without spoiling. Different styles of fortified wine include Madeira, Marsala, Port, and Sherry, along with wine Vermouth.


Oak wood barrels have been used for wine transportation for over five centuries. These barrels then became popular in use to ferment and age wine. Historically, oak barrels were the container used for fermentation and storage of both red and white wines. Today, oak is used mainly for storage of red wines and for aging fortified wines.

Fun Fact:

According to the Hopital civil Strasbourg in Wikipedia and an article Wine Tasting, Vineyards, in France found at dated October 9, 2013, the oldest wine barrels were found at the Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg (Alsace). Strasbourg is home to what is possibly the oldest wine in a barrel resting in a cellar beneath this hospital (founded in 1105). At least one of the barrels is dated as early as 1472 and contains what is reputed to contain the oldest wine on earth. The historic wine cellar, which dates from 1395, produced bottles of wine (Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Riesling, and Pinot Gris) and was known for the quality of its wines. The Hospital of Strasbourg was the largest Domaine in Alsace and sold wine as a side business. It is said that patients were given two liters of wine a day. 

Fermentation Produces Carbon Dioxide In Sealed Barrels

A bung hole is an opening for emptying or filling a barrel or cask. And wine barrels use a bung hole opening for a winemaker or cellar person to evacuate the gasses in a wine barrel. Additionally, these bung holes are also used to move wine out of and into the barrel. Furthermore, the hole is unplugged and plugged for tasting and testing wine as it ferments and ages. The barrel maker hand carves and places the bung holes in specific places on each barrel.

It is common for barrels to have two bungholes, one on top and one on the head. A top bunghole is utilized for filling the barrel, topping it up, stirring it on its lees and tasting it. A bunghole at the head is used for racking the wine.

Belly Bung Sketch
Head Of Bung Sketch

What is a Bung Hole Plug?

As explained, access to the contents of the barrel is created through the design of a specific-sized hole, which is carved at a specific location for the purpose of releasing gasses and access to the contents of the barrel. The barrel maker designs a stopper to close the hold and keep the vessel as airtight as possible. This stopper is called the bung. For comparison, a bottle’s opening is plugged with a cork. Whatever you call it – a bung plug, cork, stopper, or taper – in the wine industry, it is known simply as a bung.

The bung is usually a truncated tapering closure that is partially inserted into the container to form a seal that prevents the contents from leaking out and keeps outside impurities from entering the vessel.

Bungholes were first used on wooden barrels and were bored by the procurer with a brace and bit either at the end of a barrel or in one of the sides. Today, wooden barrels are manufactured by coopers/barrel makers who make the bungholes when creating the barrel.

Changing Materials – History

A bung may be made of cork, wood, glass, rubber, plastic, or silicone. Traditional bungs were generally made of wood, whereas modern versions are made with silicone.

The Wine History Project has a large collection of historic bungs in various sizes and materials. The bungs were purchased from one collector who had amassed approximately 75 bungs from the years 1880 through 1920. Some of these are pictured below.

CT25 Wine History Project Collection of Bungs
CT25 Wine History Project Collection of Bungs
CT25 Wine History Project Collection of Bungs
Bung Standing Up
Bung Laying Down 1
Small Bung Standing Up

Wine History Project’s Collection Tools Involving Bungs

The Wine History Project has a small collection of tools that were used for bungs, creating the bung hole, removing the bung, or inserting the bung. The tools are highly specialized. Here is the Wine History Project’s Collection. 

  • COOP42  Barrel Bung Hole Auger  (shell auger or nose auger)
Barrel Bung Hole Auger

The barrel bung hole auger is sometimes known as a shell auger or nose auger. This shape allows the shape of the hole tool be tapered, which then allows the tapered stopper or plug to be tightened into the hole. It has a “T’ handle which is used for leverage when boring through the barrel. This tool is circa 1850-1870 and appears to be hand done and made from cast iron and ash wood.  It has a height of 14 ½ inches and a width at the handle of 16 1/ inches.

  • COOP88B  Barrel Bung Puller/Extractor
Barrel Bung Puller/Extractor

This is a finishing tool which is used after the bung hole has been drilled. It smooths the inside edges of the hole in the barrel. It is first fired up and placed in and then rings the bung hole. The tool has a conical end which begins below the shaft as a cylinder and then tapers to the end. The Wine History Project tool is 32 inches long and 1 ¾ inch in diameter.

  • CT67C   Bung Driver
Cooper’s Burning Bung Burner

This tool usually has a flexible shaft for “whacking”; that is to drive the bung into the barrel or vat and is made of wood. It has no markings and I believe it is handmade. The tool, as shown, is 25 ½ inches long and 6 ¼ inches in width at the mallet end. What makes it unusual is that the handle is made of burlwood.

  • CT134C   Bung Puller/Hammer
Bung Puller/Hammer
Bung Puller/Hammer

You can easily open a barrel with the bung puller which is closed with a wooden or silicone bung. It’s a useful tool for everyone who uses barrels professionally. The tool is made from cast iron and from what I can research is circa 1900. The size is 14 inches in length when it is fully extended and 5 inches at its widest point.

This tool is used like a corkscrew. The point of the screw must be placed in the middle of the bung. Once that happens one hits the bung a few times with the sliding sleeve. Once the screw is given a whole turn, the grip of the tool is pulled fast, and the bung gets out clean. This allows the bung to come out of the barrel clean, keeping splinters from the barrel from falling back into the barrel. Because there is no pounding, wear and tear on the barrels is not an issue.

The bung puller is easy to handle, and it prevents broken staves, broken bungs and chippings or splitters who would fall into the barrel as mentioned previously.  Here is a photo of the tool inserted into the belly of a barrel.

Cooper’s Bung Plate Fixing Tool
  • CT134D   Cooper’s Bung Plate Fixing Tool

This artifact is a wine vat spring loaded metal label press. It has sharp teeth on the tag  and took me some time to figure out what it was used for. I believe it is circa 1900-1920 and is made of maple wood, brass, and spring steel. The item was in California’s Napa Valley, is 7 ¾ inches in length and 3 inches wide, and used to press the foil tags which attach to the head of the tool onto the front of the bung. This tool would label the barrel for future identification. 

Our Latest Addition Is A Gift From Gail Unzelman – A Bung Plate Fixing Tool’s Seal Or Tag


Gift to WHP’s archival collection from Gail Unzelman

The image, a gift to WHP’s archival collection from Gail Unzelman, really helped in my identification of our artifact CT134D. Gail shared the archival image with the Wine History Project and the connection was made. She is also donating the original seal or tag to stay with the WHP collection.

Fun Fact:

Albert H. Frankel, mentioned in the identification of the seal, was a cork manufacturer in 1899 who had a business address of 463 Greenwich Street and advertised his business in the New York Journal and Advertiser on July 21, 1899. This journal was published by William Randolph Hearst from 1897-1901 prior to Hearst moving to San Luis Obispo County.

  • COOP22 Bung Borer/Reamer


COOP22 Bung Borer/Reamer

This type of tool was first available circa 1860 to 1880 and was used to ream out or enlarge a bung hole in a wine barrel. Ours from the collection is hand forged and made of cast iron and ash wood and measures 13 ½ inches in length and 9 ¾ inches at the handle’s “T”. The collector who located this believes it to be originally from the Pagani Brothers Winery in Kenwood California.


Included in this section are some copies of original patents for a couple of the tools described earlier. Also included is a list of just one person’s contribution to the bung tools development as an example of how many inventors continued to create improvements in one category of tool growth in the history of wine production and business of wine.

Original Patents
Original Patents And Description