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Barrel Aging

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cuz

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I have been making wine from juice buckets for 2 years. I use carboys to bulk age and considering taking the leap to barrels. The concern is that I think the wine is usually consumed before a barrel age would be accomplished. So here are some questions:

When do you transfer into a barrel - after MLF? after primary?
How do you rack from a barrel or is all the racking done before?
How long do you age in a barrel before bottling?
How do you sanitize a barrel for reuse?
 

Johnd

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So many variable answers to your questions, but i'll take a shot.

When do you transfer into a barrel - after MLF? after primary?
Some folks actually ferment in barrels, some MLF in barrels, all personal choices. My method is to perform AF and MLF prior to putting the wine into the barrels, at which point you've already dropped a lot of sediment, certainly all of the gross lees are gone, and a reasonable portion of the fine lees by the time MLF has completed.

How do you rack from a barrel or is all the racking done before?
Once my wine goes into barrels, since it's been racked at least twice before entering, I don't rack out of the barrel and then put it back in, it just stays in there and is topped up monthly and the sulfite is adjusted monthly. The process for racking out of a barrel is the same as racking from a carboy using a racking cane and gravity or a vacuum racking type assembly.

How long do you age in a barrel before bottling?
That depends upon the size of the barrel, the type of wine, the level of oak you are looking for, and how many times the barrel has been used. With small (6 gallon) barrels, first wines usually only sit 4-6 weeks, second wine 8-12, and so on, but it's all about taste and how fast the oak flavor is imparted. All of my small barrels are now neutral and impart no oak flavor, wines sit in them for 6 months with oak staves. My new French barrel (30 gallon) will hold it's first wine for a year or more. Light wines need less time, big wines can handle more, so the above times are just guidelines to be adjusted based upon winemaker preference. Once the wine comes out of the barrel, it usually sits for a period of time before bottling, to make sure it's nice and clear and stable, and to allow for tasting and adjustments. I never bottle a barrel aged red wine in under a year.

How do you sanitize a barrel for reuse?
Try to keep you barrel full, take one wine out, put a new one in immediately. If you have a time lag, you can fill it with sulfite solution til you're ready, but you'll be oaking the sulfite solution only to throw it away. The other easy option is to rinse the barrel after empty and burn a sulfur stick in it, then put the bung in to keep the sulfur fumes in there. IIRC, this treatment lasts about 30 days, so it needs to be repeated.
 

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