Other Barrels vs Carboys for bulk aging kits

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I really don’t like to top up, I prefer using marbles in my carboy’s. If I use 20 L, i have more wine than the barrel can hold and that’s a pain too.
You have jumped into the deep end of the pool, not only without a life jacket, but without knowing how to swim. Fortunately for you, the lifeguards are good!

You are joining a different world in winemaking, and what you do with carboys does not necessarily work the same with barrels. Every bit of advice provided so far is spot-on. Believe it.

Get used to topping up. I have a pair of 54 liter barrels (14.25 US gallons) and they evaporate about 10% per year, e.g., I start with nearly 16 gallons to result in 14.25 gallons. Barrels cost quantity to provide better quality. Folks that go with barrels don't stop using them unless they have reasons other than quality.

Clear the wines first, so you have little-to-no sediment in the barrel. It will save you hassle.

@chefken's advice on duration is extremely valuable. With a 23 liter barrel, the first several kits will be in there a very short time. Honestly? Buy 4 kits, as you're going to need them.

Nope, I'm not joking about 4 kits. While 1 week for the first kit seems too short to me, it's also a small barrel so I'll not disagree with chefken. I urge you to believe him until your own practical experience proves otherwise (IF it does).

Note on oaking -- my barrels were purchased neutral, 10-11 years old. This means the oak character was long since used up, but they provide a concentrating effect by evaporating water & alcohol through the wood. The first year I added 6 oz medium toast French oak cubes to the barrel (to provide oak character) and aged the wine for 3 months. At the end I racked most of the wine out, and poured the remaining 1.5 liters of loose sludge out -- this went into a 1.5 liter wine bottle and into the fridge to clear. The clear wine went back into the barrel and was topped with excess wine from the same batch.

The bottle settled out so the lees was only 1". But the wine was so heavily oaked it was completely undrinkable. Seriously nasty. Wine has no convection currents so the wine nearest the cubes (which sank to the bottom) became over-oaked.

During the remainder of the barrel aging, I topped with that over-oaked wine. When diluted into 14.25 gallons, and 1.5 liters blended amazingly well.

The moral of this story? If you over-oak a batch, do not be concerned. Use that wine in the future to top up the barrel, or to add to non-barrel wines for oak character.
 
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You have jumped into the deep end of the pool, not only without a life jacket, but without knowing how to swim. Fortunately for you, the lifeguards are good!

You are joining a different world in winemaking, and what you do with carboys does not necessarily work the same with barrels. Every bit of advice provided so far is spot-on. Believe it.

Get used to topping up. I have a pair of 54 liter barrels (14.25 US gallons) and they evaporate about 10% per year, e.g., I start with nearly 16 gallons to result in 14.25 gallons. Barrels cost quantity to provide better quality. Folks that go with barrels don't stop using them unless they have reasons other than quality.

Clear the wines first, so you have little-to-no sediment in the barrel. It will save you hassle.

@chefken's advice on duration is extremely valuable. With a 23 liter barrel, the first several kits will be in there a very short time. Honestly? Buy 4 kits, as you're going to need them.

Nope, I'm not joking about 4 kits. While 1 week for the first kit seems too short to me, it's also a small barrel so I'll not disagree with chefken. I urge you to believe him until your own practical experience proves otherwise (IF it does).

Note on oaking -- my barrels were purchased neutral, 10-11 years old. This means the oak character was long since used up, but they provide a concentrating effect by evaporating water & alcohol through the wood. The first year I added 6 oz medium toast French oak cubes to the barrel (to provide oak character) and aged the wine for 3 months. At the end I racked most of the wine out, and poured the remaining 1.5 liters of loose sludge out -- this went into a 1.5 liter wine bottle and into the fridge to clear. The clear wine went back into the barrel and was topped with excess wine from the same batch.

The bottle settled out so the lees was only 1". But the wine was so heavily oaked it was completely undrinkable. Seriously nasty. Wine has no convection currents so the wine nearest the cubes (which sank to the bottom) became over-oaked.

During the remainder of the barrel aging, I topped with that over-oaked wine. When diluted into 14.25 gallons, and 1.5 liters blended amazingly well.

The moral of this story? If you over-oak a batch, do not be concerned. Use that wine in the future to top up the barrel, or to add to non-barrel wines for oak character.
I truly value all of the knowledge you all provide. I will say that I anticipate some growing pains with the barrel process and a learning curve. In fact, I even told my wife that this first barrel may/may not work out and could end up getting cut in half and used as flower planters in the yard, lol…. I do currently have six Cabernet and Super Tuscan kits. One in bulk aging, two in EM, one in primary and two FWK kits due to arrive Monday. So I have 36 gallons to play with on this first barrel. I only usually buy premium kits but have also thought about the idea of always having a medium quality kit in bulk aging to use as my “top up” wine for the barrel.

I did change my order and opted to go with the 20L barrel instead of the 23L, per all of the suggestions .

keep the suggestions coming folks, I am taking good notes ;)!
 
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I only usually buy premium kits but have also thought about the idea of always having a medium quality kit in bulk aging to use as my “top up” wine for the barrel.
Negatory, good buddy! You can't improve a wine by blending in a lesser wine. Keep reading ...

In fact, I even told my wife that this first barrel may/may not work out and could end up getting cut in half and used as flower planters in the yard, and get replaced with a 20L version
Another negatory. There's no reason to break in a barrel then to make it a planter. Consider an alternate POV.

In France most wines are blends, with the exception of Burgundy. In Italy & Spain, wines are slanted towards blends. In the USA, a wine can be labeled "Cabernet Sauvignon" if it contains 76% CS, and it's widely believed that a fair number of varietally labeled wines are blends. Among the so-called fighting varietals ($8-$15 USD), these are also trending towards blends.

Your Super Tuscans are blends.

Read through the Grape Wines sub-forum ... a lot of us are making blends. A fair number of folks blend Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and other wines as a minor component to improve the primary grapes.

Ok, I expect I've beaten you enough with the "blend" club. 😂

You have a lot to work with. Skip the marbles. Make a straight CS, a CS topped with Super Tuscan, a straight ST, and ST topped with CS, and keep whatever is left to topup future barrels. As each batch will remain in the barrel longer (mine set for a year until the next year's wine is ready for the barrel), you'll use more topup with future batches.
 
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@winemaker81 you are correct about diving in, after making 30+ kits and using only carboys, it’s time to step up my game! I went ahead and ordered a 20L French oak barrel from Bochart and also a 20 L Hungarian oak barrel from Vadai….that should get me into the game lol…I figure two different types of oak would be nice to have and also I can compare the quality of both barrel companies.
 
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I went ahead and ordered a 20L French oak barrel from Bochart and also a 20 L Hungarian oak barrel from Vadai
Keep in mind that your first batch in each barrel may be in there only 2 weeks, and the second one only 4 weeks. The third one? Maybe 8 to 12 weeks. Three kits will fill the barrels 4 to 5 months, 6 at most.

The key is the internal surface area to volume ratio:
  • The smaller the barrel, the larger the ratio.
  • The larger the ratio, the faster the wine absorbs flavoring from the barrel.
When you read about wines aged for 2 years in a new barrel, that's a 59 gallon barrel, NOT a 5 gallon barrel.

Barrels MUST be kept full, else they will dry out & leak, and/or grow mold. If a barrel gets infected, you can expect to throw out the wine in it, and make the barrel into a planter.

You can make a holding solution with K-meta and acid, with which you can keep the barrel full between uses. However, the water absorbs and uses up the oak character, so it's defeating the value of the barrel by using a holding solution when the barrel is new.

As mentioned, my barrels are neutral (this happens around age 2 to 3 years), and I leave the wine in for 11-13 months, which is when the next year's wine is ready to go into the barrels.

I suggest that you do NOT soak the new barrels when you receive them. Use your existing kits in the 23 liter barrel and use that experience in going forward.
 
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Can you elaborate on the not soaking piece? Are you saying to not use boiling water to seal them, rather use my current wine kits? Or are you saying to not fill them with the water K meta solution. I realize that committing to two barrels means a lot of wine production in the first year, that’s ok.
 
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I'm trying not to be negative but this Bochart US company smells a little of fish to me. He said in a post that they admit their website leaves something to be desired. The fact that they don't say what kind of oak it is bothers me, the spigot a little as well. Check your 54 l barrel. Mine measure 17 at the head and 21 long, theirs are 15 head and 21 long. Their 30 and 40 are smaller than mine as well. Did you have a chance to look at the website?
 
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Can you elaborate on the not soaking piece?
From your comments you may already be aware of this, but I'll explain fully in case you don't.

Barrels arrive dry -- you fill them with (hot) water and keep filling them with water until the wood swells and all cracks seal up. Once the barrel stops leaking, let it set at least another day to ensure there are no slow leaks. While this can be done with wine, that is a VERY expensive proposition. A new barrel can leak a lot of water, which is far cheaper than wine.

When I said to not soak the new barrels, I meant that literally. Don't do anything with them -- yet. Give yourself an opportunity to experiment with the first barrel and learn the nuances. Later, when you're ready, soak/swell another barrel and fill it with wine.

There is not any problem with using a holding solution -- my second barrel spent a year with a holding solution until I was ready to buy it from the former owner. But ... for newer barrels, the water absorbs oak character like wine does, and you are throwing that water out. The oak character that might be used for wine is being lost. For that reason I'd not use a holding solution in a barrel under 3 years old, unless I had to.

MoreWine! has a barrel care manual:

 
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I'm trying not to be negative but this Bochart US company smells a little of fish to me. He said in a post that they admit their website leaves something to be desired. The fact that they don't say what kind of oak it is bothers me, the spigot a little as well. Check your 54 l barrel. Mine measure 17 at the head and 21 long, theirs are 15 head and 21 long. Their 30 and 40 are smaller than mine as well. Did you have a chance to look at the website?
I get it….another person on this forum posted in a different thread that they received a barrel from them and was very impressed.. I will say the sales manager has been very responsive and easy to work with. They sell two different quality levels (regular and Special Edition), the Special Exition is a thicker wood. The sales manager stated their barrels are French oak. I guess I will find out soon enough, worst case scenario is that I’m out $250.
 
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I get it….another person on this forum posted in a different thread that they received a barrel from them and was very impressed.. I will say the sales manager has been very responsive and easy to work with. They sell two different quality levels (regular and Special Edition), the Special Exition is a thicker wood. The sales manager stated their barrels are French oak. I guess I will find out soon enough, worst case scenario is that I’m out $250.

I truly hope it works out great for you. please do send the pics.
 
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From your comments you may already be aware of this, but I'll explain fully in case you don't.

Barrels arrive dry -- you fill them with (hot) water and keep filling them with water until the wood swells and all cracks seal up. Once the barrel stops leaking, let it set at least another day to ensure there are no slow leaks. While this can be done with wine, that is a VERY expensive proposition. A new barrel can leak a lot of water, which is far cheaper than wine.

When I said to not soak the new barrels, I meant that literally. Don't do anything with them -- yet. Give yourself an opportunity to experiment with the first barrel and lean the nuances. Later, when you're ready, soak/swell another barrel and fill it with wine.

There is not any problem with using a holding solution -- my second barrel spent a year with a holding solution until I was ready to buy it from the former owner. But ... for newer barrels, the water absorbs oak character like wine does, and you are throwing that water out. The oak character that might be used for wine is being lost. For that reason I'd not use a holding solution in a barrel under 3 years old, unless I had to.

MoreWine! has a barrel care manual:


ok I get what your saying….leave one dry until I have learned from some experiences with the first one. 👍
 
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My reason for caution is that it's not obvious how much wine is needed to keep a barrel full for 3 years.

Let's assume that the first batch of wine in a 19 (or 23) liter barrel can remain for 2 weeks. Let's further assume that each succeeding batch can remain in the barrel for double the time of its predecessor without being over-oaked. These numbers are "reasonable" for illustration purposes, but each batch of wine is different, so nothing it guaranteed.

BatchDuration (weeks)Cum WeeksCum MonthsCum Years
1220.50.0
2461.40.1
38143.20.3
416306.90.6
5326214.31.2
66412629.12.4
712825458.74.9

You're looking at putting 3 batches into the barrel in the first 2 months, batch 4 goes in during the 3rd month, and the barrel becomes neutral after the 7th batch goes in. That's five 23 liter batches during the first year. Your current production is enough for 1 barrel. To fill the other 2, you need at least 10 more kits.

My barrels (54 liters) evaporate 10% per year -- smaller barrels may evaporate more due to the internal surface area to volume ratio, so plan for 20%. The first few batches won't evaporate much, but as time goes on, you'll need more wine available for the purpose.

My plans were messed up this year. My son had the poor grace to get married on the weekend our grapes were delivered. I told him that most people get married more than once, so I and my elder son (who was best man and officiated) would be sure to attend his next wedding. He and my new daughter-in-law thought that was hilarious! [her parents, not so much!]

Nope, it wasn't my son's fault -- their plans had been in place for well over a year. The screwed up harvest and delivery of grapes this fall mucked things up, so we went with Plan B.

Plan B? We chose to purchase six 23 liter kits so the barrels would be full. I should have 2 gallons extra from each barrel by the time we bottle next fall.
 

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I almost bought a small Bochart barrel but aborted due to perceived red flags. Having said that, I’m glad you’re trying them out. If the company turns out legit, this forum could steer some business their way. Please keep us posted.

The people at Vadai are good to work with. I acquired a Vadai barrel, unused but several years old. I could not get that thing to seal. I was about to throw it away, but the folks there walked me through additional steps, quick shipped me some bees wax for free. There's wine in that barrel now!
 
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I almost bought a small Bochart barrel but aborted due to perceived red flags. Having said that, I’m glad you’re trying them out. If the company turns out legit, this forum could steer some business their way. Please keep us posted.

The people at Vadai are good to work with. I acquired a Vadai barrel, unused but several years old. I could not get that thing to seal. I was about to throw it away, but the folks there walked me through additional steps, quick shipped me some bees wax for free. There's wine in that barrel now!

I hope So too! I told the sales manager that if their barrel is not legit, I will be sure to let everyone on the forum know to stay away from them😬 🤞🏻
 
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