Oak barrels are the traditional way of aging wine.
Barrels do require special treatment before they are used. All barrels come with a bunghole and a travel bung on
the side. You need to prepare
your barrel for wine. Barrels should always be positioned horizontally on a cradle.
If allowed to rest on the floor or on end, they could spring the bottom
If you have not purchased a brand new barrel or are using one that you know has only had wine in it, you need to smell the barrel. If it has a vinegar or moldy smell, do not use the barrel. If the barrel has stored pickles, fish or any other substance other than wine, donít use the barrel. The odors of these substances have been absorbed into the wood and there is no way to remove them.
Assuming your barrel has no
off odors and is apparently sound, fill the barrel with cold water and keep it
full for 48 hours. Even a new
barrel needs to be filled with water and soaked.
If it leaks, you might try hammering the hoops until they are tight
against the staves and soak for another 24 hours.
If it still leaks, look for another barrel. Once you have determined that your (used) barrel is OK to
use, fill the barrel with a solution (read on) of Barrelkleen.
NEVER EVER USE CHLORINE IN YOUR BARREL. Barrelkleen is a combination of sodium sesquicarbonate, soda ash and
lye. Mix one (1) pound of Barrelkleen
per five (5) gallons of hot water.
A 30-gallon barrel will require 6 pounds of Barrelkleen and 30 gallons
of water. Leave this solution in
the barrel for 24-48 hours. This removes the excess tannins and allows
the barrel to absorb water and swell so it wonít leak.
After 48 hours, drain the barrel and flush with water until the water
runs clear. Then mix one (1) ounce of citric acid with one
gallon of warm water. For a
30-gallon barrel you will need 3-5 gallons of this solution.
Close the barrel and roll it so the solution touches the entire
interior. This neutralizes any remaining alkali. Drain and rinse out the
barrel. Now the barrel is ready
for your wine. If you are using a new barrel
you may omit the Barrelkleen
step, or if you are more comfortable
its use, you may cut down on the exposure time to 12-to 24 hours. You must
always neutralize the Barrelkleen solution.
A barrel must never be left empty for more than 2 hours after it has been conditioned.
You may wish to drill a spigot hole before filling with wine. Different size spigots will require different size holes. Size your spigot in a hole cut in paper or cardboard first. Drill a hole in the head or end of the barrel near the rim. Place a tapered cork in the hole. Make sure your cork fits the hole chosen for your spigot. A #14 cork fits a 1Ē hole. When the cork gets wet, it will swell and keep the hole from leaking. Hopefully you donít have a cat that will worry the cork until it comes out. (We winemakers can tell some of the most incredible horror stories!) When you are ready to transfer your wine from the barrel, cut the cork flush with the head and drive the spigot into the barrel with a rubber mallet. You may omit the spigot hole and transfer with a racking rod and siphon or a small pump.
A small 5 gallon barrel will impart more than enough oak in 2 weeks or less. Wine in small barrels must be checked frequently.
Finally, you never want to leave a barrel empty. Keeping it filled prevents the barrel from drying out, growing mold or going sour. If you don't have more wine to fill it with, flush the barrel with water until it runs clear. Fill the barrel with a solution of 1 tablespoon of metabisulfite and 2 teaspoons of citric acid for every 5 gallons of water. Replace this solution every three months or at least replenish the chemicals and top up with water.