Is it possible to re-use red wine barrels to barrel-ferment whites?

Discussion in 'General Wine Making Forum' started by jgmillr1, Nov 10, 2018 at 1:45 AM.

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  1. Nov 10, 2018 at 1:45 AM #1

    jgmillr1

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    I've retired a few barrels this week and began considering their next phase of life. These are medium-toasted Am oak 53-gal barrels, for the interested. For the last 5 years they have been in continuous use aging various red wines and so are pretty much neutral oak now.

    One possible life for them would be to use them as fermenting barrel for a white, such as chardonnay or viognier. However, the natural question that arises is whether they can be sufficiently cleaned (without disassembling) to avoid a pink hue to the white wine. I've already rinsed them several times using a barrel spray ball, caustic wash (1% NaOH), and finally citric+sulfites. However, I'm not convinced that the rinsate is perfectly clear enough for me and that there are not hidden tartrates in the crevasses that are waiting to give a pink hue to a white wine. Thus the question: what steps, if possible, are suggested to satisfactorily condition a previously used red-wine barrel for use as a white wine fermentation barrel?
     
  2. Nov 10, 2018 at 2:17 AM #2

    CK55

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    Personally I would say no, That they are at this point pretty much dyed whether you rinse or not. I think you would likely get some pink coloration.
     
  3. Nov 10, 2018 at 6:05 AM #3

    stickman

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    I'm not sure if it is possible to leach out the previous wine and color in a short period of time, but if you are intent on trying something, then soaking with one of the oxygen based cleaners containing sodium percarbonate may be best. The standard holding solution of Kmeta/citric acid could then be used for a few weeks at a time as a "proving" solution to see how much color remains. I'm not sure you could ever feel confident putting a white wine in those barrels without several seasons of white wine "extraction".
     
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  4. Nov 10, 2018 at 11:17 AM #4

    sour_grapes

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    I have a question, though. Why would you want to do this? I always assumed that the purpose of barrel-fermenting was to impart some oak to those whites looking for an oakey style. (Of course, you know what happens when you assume.) So, if I am right, wouldn't the fact that the barrels are neutral negate the reason for barrel-fermenting?
     
  5. Nov 10, 2018 at 11:57 AM #5

    mainshipfred

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    I'll be the one getting in trouble for assuming. Perhaps he just wants a fermentation vessel for the whites since there are no skins involved. The coloring would concern me though.
     
  6. Nov 10, 2018 at 12:32 PM #6

    Johnd

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    Agree with all of the potential coloring issues raised. With a 53 gallon barrel, of medium quality and stave thickness or better, I’d be much more inclined to disassemble, plane, and reassemble the barrel. Getting another several years of oaky love from it would be a huge win in my book. Granted, fooling around with that sort of thing suits me, and larger barrels are supposedly easier and more forgiving to work with than their smaller counterparts. It could be ready in a couple days time as well, versus a long soaking process and unsure results. Just my two cents.
     
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  7. Nov 10, 2018 at 3:31 PM #7

    jgmillr1

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    Thanks for all the thoughts here. They basically confirm my concerns with getting them cleaned out sufficiently. I'll probably just turn them into tables, sell them or find a brewery that wants them.

    I'll see about picking up a few new barrels and break them in with a white fermentation before aging the reds in them.
     
  8. Nov 10, 2018 at 3:59 PM #8

    mjrisenhoover

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    Yes small barrels are harder! YouTube video of DIY reconditioning.
     
  9. Nov 12, 2018 at 2:01 PM #9

    winemaker81

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    Evaporation. Wine in barrels are subject to evaporation, water and (I think) alcohol escaping, leaving a higher concentration of all the other constituents of the wine.

    I had an acquaintance who did 100% barrel aging, he clued me in the details. His oldest barrels were 20 years old at that time and imparted no oak character. He was going to experiment with adding oak chips to the barrels for flavoring. I moved, lost contact, and have no idea how the experiment worked out. However, the reasoning was sound.
     
  10. Nov 12, 2018 at 2:53 PM #10

    stickman

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    I have heard professional winemakers discuss barrel fermentation of chardonnay, claiming that using even neutral barrels provides a mid-palate textural component that isn't typically achieved in stainless steel. There were no theories given as to why this happens, but there is no doubt that during fermentation the interaction between the wine, wood, oxygen, and the lees, etc. is very complex.
     
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  11. Nov 12, 2018 at 3:24 PM #11

    sour_grapes

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    I wasn't questioning aging whites in a neutral barrel. I was questioning fermenting in them. Fermentation doesn't take long enough for concentration by evaporation.

    @stickman 's answer addresses my question, however.
     
  12. Nov 12, 2018 at 4:15 PM #12

    winemaker81

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    I completely missed that one word, fermenting. Yeah, it kind of changes the direction of the question ... ;-)

    I can't think of a reason for fermenting in an old barrel, other than it's what someone has as a container. I'm interested in seeing if anyone has a more detailed answer.
     
  13. Nov 12, 2018 at 7:01 PM #13

    stickman

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    Many wineries will have a range of age to the barrels base on the desired oak impact of the final blend. If you were to ferment a chardonnay in a new oak barrel, and leave it there until bottling, there's a good chance the wine will have a high level of oak impact, depending on the desired style, maybe too high. So wine fermented and aged in older barrels provides the blending stock to achieve the desired oak impact. You could also ferment and age wine in a stainless tank to provide another type of blending stock, maybe a bit more fruit and more crisp than the neutral barrel. Without getting too technical, I think it is safe to say that wine fermented and aged in neutral oak would be different than if it were similarly treated in stainless steel.
     

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