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Barrel or stainless steel tank?

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zadvocate

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I have limited space and funds. I want to get either a barrel or a stainless steel variable volume tank as my next piece of equipment. Which would you recommend to purchase first?This would only be a eight or 10 gallon barrel.
 

ibglowin

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A tank can’t do what a barrel can do for a red wine however. Whereas a carboy and a tank do the same thing for a white wine, ie keep out oxygen.
 

balatonwine

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A barrel is only good for a few years for "oaking" wine. Then you have to shave them and re-toast. And a barrel needs TLC, else the staves might shrink and leak. Wood can pick up and retain all sorts of bacteria et al. one year that can spoil the wine the next year.

A stainless steel (SS) tank should last your lifetime. Easy to clean. And you can always add oak chips to the wine in SS if you want to oak a red (and thus even gives you many different and variable "oaking" options for any wine you create, year in and year out, and year to year which a barrel can not do). Personally, IMHO, for a hobbyist, SS is the better, more flexible option.

You can also consider HDPE over either of the above. But SS is still probably the easier flex-volume tank option available.
 

ibglowin

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You do not have to re-toast them when neutral. At that point you can just add oak adjuncts straight into to the barrel and age as normal. You can add french oak or american oak once neutral and change it up to your liking. Yes barrels require you to maintain a level of sanitization and cleaning that a SS tank doesn't require but a SS tank does not provide (on its own) micro-ox and concentration through evaporation that a barrel provides. There simply is no comparison or substitution (IMHO) for a well maintained barrel if your making red wines. I got my first small barrel back in 2010 and it is still in use today.
 

DoctorCAD

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Barrels wear out (technically they go neutral), stainless steel will not.
 

Johnd

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You do not have to re-toast them when neutral. At that point you can just add oak adjuncts straight into to the barrel and age as normal. You can add french oak or american oak once neutral and change it up to your liking. Yes barrels require you to maintain a level of sanitization and cleaning that a SS tank doesn't require but a SS tank does not provide (on its own) micro-ox and concentration through evaporation that a barrel provides. There simply is no comparison or substitution (IMHO) for a well maintained barrel if your making red wines. I got my first small barrel back in 2010 and it is still in use today.
Well stated, couldn’t agree more!!!
 

zadvocate

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A lot of great responses I really do appreciate it. I’m now even more confused. LOL
 

ceeaton

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A lot of great responses I really do appreciate it. I’m now even more confused. LOL
Well, pick one and down the road pick up the other one you don't buy now. Maybe the first one you pick you really like, but someday I'd like to own both, just not financially feasible today (maybe tomorrow).
 

NorCal

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I wouldn’t buy a barrel that small. I would be looking at a 15 gallon flex tank. The ease of care of SS, but with the benefit of micro ox. If I didn’t make enough to do 15 gallons, I’d stick to glass, until I did.
 

balatonwine

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You do not have to re-toast them when neutral. At that point you can just add oak adjuncts straight into to the barrel and age as normal. You can add french oak or american oak once neutral and change it up to your liking.
That is of course correct.

But then the wood barrel is no different than a stainless steal tank regarding oaking. So why not just start with stainless steel?** Or flextank as NorCal said if one wants micro-oxygenation.


** To answer my own question: Even when it has gone neutral, a wood barrel has a bit of romance, history, nostalgia, and just the "idea" knowing the wine was in a wood barrel is something. And those are all also good reasons to have a barrel for some.
 
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Johnd

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To each his / her own. In my world, barrels rule supreme in the production of traditionally packed red wine. No other vessel can duplicate its flavor, period. Even when that flavor is gone, no other vessel duplicates the microx AND concentration of a barrel. There’s a reason folks, why wineries continue to spend big bucks on great coopers and their barrels, and it’s not nostalgic, or cool. If there were as good of a method to to achieve the same results, barrels would be rarely used in the modern winery.
 

ibglowin

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Flex tanks are nice. I own two of them. They are great for micro ox and easy to clean but they don't give you any concentration through evaporation which produces a superior product in the end IMHO.

And as for not buying anything less than a 15G barrel. Bigger is better in wine barrels for sure but not everybody lives next to a vineyard in Northern California and has the space and $$$ to purchase grapes by the ton, has the help to process those grapes into wine and has enough family and friends to ultimately drink that much wine so for some of us a 23L or 6G barrel is a nice way to get your feet wet and take your wine to the next level of quality.

But then the wood barrel is no different than a stainless steal tank regarding oaking. So why not just start with stainless steel?** Or flextank as NorCal said if one wants micro-oxygenation.
 

NorCal

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Flex tanks are nice. I own two of them. They are great for micro ox and easy to clean but they don't give you any concentration through evaporation which produces a superior product in the end IMHO.

And as for not buying anything less than a 15G barrel. Bigger is better in wine barrels for sure but not everybody lives next to a vineyard in Northern California and has the space and $$$ to purchase grapes by the ton, has the help to process those grapes into wine and has enough family and friends to ultimately drink that much wine so for some of us a 23L or 6G barrel is a nice way to get your feet wet and take your wine to the next level of quality.
Yes I’m spoiled, but my recommendation was based on my experience with smaller barrels as I was getting started in the hobby. Even with a 30 gallon barrel, I was over oaking my wine. The rule of thumb of 1 week in the barrel for every gallon the barrel holds, means there is a lot of caring for an empty barrel, unless there is a line-up of kits to rotate in.
 

ibglowin

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Yep, Rule#1 on owning a small barrel is to commit to keeping it full all the time. Waaay to much hassle if you can't. If you can't do that then stay with a carboy or a Flextank (15G is the smallest) or a SS Tank of sorts. Not sure I remember the details on your 30G barrel but I can honestly say that owning 4 of the 23L Vadai's for 7 years now I never once over oaked a wine. Perhaps its something to do with Hungarian Oak vs French or American but they have always when new seemed to be forgiving and fall back after the short upfront stays in the barrel when new. After that, once broken in, 6 months is the sweet spot. Then when Neutral add Staves, Xoakers, Winestix or any other high quality oak adjunct. Follow the directions as far as amounts and of course taste, taste, taste along the way.
 

JohnT

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+ 1 on the great advice that others have provided...

How much wine are we talking about??

- if you are looking to put 8 or 10 gallons into a steel tank, I would advise against that. Use carboys instead.
Also, the smaller the tank, the more it will cost per liter of storage (take cost and divide by capacity). I would not waste my time on a 100 liter tank, but you will find that 200, 300, or a 500 liter tank well worth the money in the long run.

- although you do not get the full benefit of a wood barrel, you can always add oak adjuncts to get some wood influence in you wine.
 

balatonwine

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There’s a reason folks, why wineries continue to spend big bucks on great coopers and their barrels, and it’s not nostalgic, or cool. If there were as good of a method to to achieve the same results, barrels would be rarely used in the modern winery.
Agree that nothing oaks wine like wine against the staves of a barrel. But big wineries keep coopers in business because once the barrels go neutral, they typically shave and re-toast or replace them. Because adding oak chips to a neutral barrel is not what most big wineries do -- because that will never be the same as what the natural barrel wood will do. :)

But we are of course replying to the OP, who is not a big winery. So, I am simply saying, as the OP has limited funds, starting with a neutral, worry free, easy to clean and care for vessel is probably a much better plan than buying a barrel, which will require more work to maintain and a wine making style change in a few years as the barrel goes neutral. But again, that is just my suggestion.

Side note:

This is how I see it regarding "modern wineries": there are a lot of modern wineries now trying all sorts of different vessels. Such as concrete, plastic (i.e. flextank), steel, clay. Saying that a modern winery is defined by using wood barrels is.... well.... limited. I would say the real modern wineries are doing things differently than tradition dictates. And large wineries tend to be tradition bound because big business tends to be conservative. Real modern wineries are the small ones. The ones who can experiment. Innovate. And, yes, barrels may not be used there. But that is just my view, of course. ;)
 
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mainshipfred

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To each his / her own. In my world, barrels rule supreme in the production of traditionally packed red wine. No other vessel can duplicate its flavor, period. Even when that flavor is gone, no other vessel duplicates the microx AND concentration of a barrel. There’s a reason folks, why wineries continue to spend big bucks on great coopers and their barrels, and it’s not nostalgic, or cool. If there were as good of a method to to achieve the same results, barrels would be rarely used in the modern winery.
Agree 100% but they are also nostalgic and cool! LOL
 

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