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How to open a wooden wine box – Ask Decanter

Is there a trick to opening a wooden wine case without damaging it?

Richard Smith, by email, asks: A wine enthusiast for 30 years or more, I have always stored my wine for ageing in The Wine Society’s cellars. I love the anticipation of taking delivery of my wine when it’s ready for drinking, but I’ve never got the hang of how to open the smart wooden wine packaging cases without damaging them. Do you have any tips?

David Longfield, a member of the Decanter editorial team, and formerly ran branches of Oddbins in London and Oxford, responds: In my time working in wine shops, Richard, I must have opened hundreds of wooden wine and Port boxes, and yes, there is a bit of an art to it! Your objective is gently to pull up the metal staples that hold the lid down, without causing the wood of the lid or the side-panels to split – easier said than done at times. If the staples have been applied at the wrong angle, then there may already be splits, making damage unavoidable – so don’t be too hard on yourself if it happens.

The most effective tool I ever came across for the job was a simple flat-headed screwdriver, not small, but not too large. First, choose a corner. Along the long side of the box (so you’re applying pressure across the grain), and close to the metal staple, gently encourage the blade of your screwdriver in between the lid and the top edge of the side-panel. Once there, gently lever the screwdriver to pull the staple part way up (not all the way out).

Once you’ve made a gap between lid and side panel, move your screwdriver along the same edge to the next staple and repeat the process – always being cautious that if it sounds or feels as if the wood might start to split, then leave that bit and move along again to find an easier staple.

Switch to the other side and do the same again. By the time you’ve done one or two of the staples here, you ought to find that the staples holding down the ends of the lid panels have started to come free of their own volition. And by the time you get to your last corner, you should find that all the staples are now loose enough for you to work the lid away by hand – but go gently even still, in case one of them wants to put up a last bit of resistance!

This question first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Decanter magazine.

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