Wine barrels are some of the most essential equipments that’s a wine maker is expected to have. Wine barrel care is therefore essential in ensuring better results and performance from the barrel.
New wine barrel care
New wine barrels are quite delicate. You must ensure that they are in good condition before you start using them. Check for cracks, dislocations, or any defects on the chimes and croze. In case the barrels are dry, you should pay attention to the hoops before proceeding to the next wine barrel care step.
Wine Barrel Care step one: Hydrate
Hydrating the barrel is a way of making it liquid tight. Your decision to hydrate will depend on how long it has been since the barrel was made. There are two ways of going about this process:-
The French/Hot Water Wine Barrel Care Method
Begin with hot chlorine-free water.
Warning: For the best wine barrel care, do not use chlorine water, consider buying chlorine free water.
Fill the barrel with hot water up to 20% of its volume and then tightly, cork the opening before you shake the barrel. Depending on the dryness of the barrel, water will spray out of the staves and subside quickly or slowly.
Subsequently, turn the barrel on its head and fill both heads with hot water, consecutively, and wait for about 20 minutes. This should make the barrels water tight. Fill the barrel with water and test it to see whether it has any leaks. If there are leaks, you should consider doing the second wine barrel care step which is, leaving the barrel with the water to soak for about 24 hours then empty it and refill it again for about 12 hours. If, after 36 hours the leaks continue, you should not use the barrel. But if it doesn’t leak, then the barrel is ready for use.
You will not need to sanitize the barrel with chemicals because the charring process involves sanitation by fire.
All you’ll need to do after the wine barrel care is to rack wine into the barrel. Always check the fill level and top off when needed, especially for smaller barrels. Also, the sulphur dioxide level should be maintained in the wine after the completion of the malo-lactic fermentation. Otherwise, the bung should be vented until all the CO2 production has stopped.
One of the best wine barrel care tips you should consider after wine racking, is to refill the barrel. However, ensure that you have rinsed out the residue, using chlorine free water, from the old wine and pour new wine into the barrel.
Wine barrel care and up keep
Keep the barrel full of wine to ensure that it is hydrates and sanitized. If this is not possible, consider the following wine barrel care.
Dry-store the barrel for about 2 month, rinse and drain it. Burn a ¼ inch long, piece of sulphur sticks in a bunged barrel and wrap the bilge area with plastic wrap to maintain the moisture in the body of the barrel. Ensure to keep the barrel breathing through the heads to prevent mold from growing. Ensure that the burning sulphur does not touch the wood.
Dry storage for 3-9 months: Try to avoid wine barrel care that involves this length of time unless really necessary. Begin with the 1-2 months dry storing then dry-store every 2 months instead. Every 2 months you’ll be unwrapping the barrel, rinsing it and then filling the barrel with water to make it water tight then repeating the dry storing process.
Dry storing for 9 months: This should be a last resort for any wine barrel care option you have mainly because it will leach oak flavor from the wood with time. Fill the barrel with a solution of 4g of citric acid and 8g of potassium metabisulfite per gallon of barrel volume and store it like you would wine. In fact, you must ensure to top off ever few weeks.
Your wine barrel care must also involve removal of tartrate crystal build up by the use of 2 oz. of soda ash to 3 gallons of fresh chlorine-free water. Fill the barrel with the solution and wait for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the solution and rinse then flush with a solution of citric acid in water to neutralize the soda ash. Your wine barrel care will be complete when you rinse, drain and fill in with wine.
It takes a lesser time for a newer wine barrel to reach a particular oak level as compared to older barrels. The age of the barrel will affect the rate at which flavor compound can leach out of the wood.
The size of the barrel
Smaller barrels are better because the smaller surface area increases the level of contact between the wine and the barrel. Larger barrels slow down the evaporation and extraction rate plus, the level of contact is lowered too.