THE CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR NEW BARREL...
Welcome to the next level of winemaking! Oak alters the nature of wine in two ways – the wine dissolves and absorbs a complex of aromas and flavours from the oak. Tannins, phenols, vanillins and sugars are a major part of this extraction, but there are a myriad of trace elements which differ with the various oak species, where the trees were grown and how the wood was dried and coopered. Secondly, oxygen is introduced into the barrel through the joints between the staves. Thus, wine stored in an oak cask is subject to very slow oxidation and that is what gives wine its maturity.
Smaller barrels provide each litre of wine with a great deal more oak character than a larger barrel due to the ratio of surface area to wine volume. Because of this the same degree of flavour change may be observed in a far shorter period of time, perhaps only a few weeks. Wine in a small barrel requires constant monitoring to ensure it does not become over oaked.
There are almost as many ways of hydrating barrels as there are barrel users.
Any minor leaks (if there are any) should have stopped by the end of this process.
Generally any leakage problems with barrels will occur around where the head seats in the croze or within about 6 inches of the stave ends. The above procedure takes care of this area. If this process fails to tighten the barrel, call Okanagan Barrel Works.
USING YOUR BARREL FOR THE FIRST TIME
A brand new barrel, particularly a smaller one, will add a lot of oak very quickly to your wine. Some winemakers prefer to soften this initial impact in the following manner:
Fill the barrel about 50% with very hot water, bung tightly and rotate the barrel. Leave the water overnight then empty. You can do this as often as you wish and it is a good way to avoid over oaking your wine while the barrel is still young.
Now that you are ready to fill your barrel with wine, go right ahead. Just make sure you fill the barrel completely to avoid any air space (ullage) inside. If necessary, top up with a finished wine from a previous batch or (Heaven forbid!) with some store bought product.
CLEANING BETWEEN WINE FILLS
A barrel that is being refilled repeatedly with wine will do just fine with a thorough rinse between fills as follows:
At times, however, despite one’s best efforts a barrel will require a chemical rinsing for stubborn tartrates or some slight “off” odours. Sodium Percarbonate is a food safe, oxygen based, granular cleaner available under a variety of trade names. We haven’t found anything that works as well as this product.
STORING AN EMPTY BARREL
The very best way to maintain a wine barrel is to ensure it is never empty of wine! However this is not always possible so something must be done to keep the barrel sweet.
An untreated empty barrel will quickly begin to produce moulds and bacteria. Replacing the air in the barrel with an atmosphere high in SO2 will effectively eliminate this problem.
Method 1 – Sulphur Sticks
These should be burned in a device that will collect any drips of molten sulphur. Place the stick in the burner which is suspended from the bung. Light the stick, place it in the barrel and allow it to burn completely. Re-sulphur every 6-8 weeks.
Method 2 – Sulphite Solution