Neutralize a oak barrel, quickly...

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crushday

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Does anyone know how to neutralize a brand new oak barrel? I've just purchased three 6.1 gallon oak barrels and I'd prefer they were neutral so I'm not over-oaking the wine and, I'm not fussing with aging wine in a new barrel for a couple weeks before transfering or bottleing.

I'm more interested in the micro oxidation properties of the barrel and plan on adding spirals when the barrels are neutral.

If going through the paces is the only way, I'll do it...
 

stickman

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Wow, you're making the barrel coopers cringe, it seems a shame to throw away those expensive toasted tannins. There might be some members here that will gladly leach those tannins for you, but it will take some time. If you really want to make the barrel neutral fast, use a sodium carbonate solution soak, about 7grams per gallon of water, you'll have to leave it in there for several days and then drain and rinse, followed by a soak of equal time of Kmeta/citric acid solution to neutralize remaining carbonate. I've rinsed a barrel with sodium carbonate solution, but never tried to make one neutral, it may take several weeks for the solution to get deep enough into the wood, so I'm not certain how you will know it is neutral other than by nose; you're going to be in uncharted territory.
 
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mainshipfred

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Not sure how many wines you have going into those barrels but if you had, for example, 9 you could keep racking them back and forth. The 2nd and 3rd time will take longer then the first and after the 3rd is finished you could put the first one back in an leave it for an extended time. Probably not the answer you are looking for.
 

Boatboy24

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Honestly, 'breaking in' a barrel that size isn't too bad. 4-5 weeks for the first wine. 6-8 for the 2nd. After that, you're at 10-12 weeks - maybe longer. So you'll have two rackings/transfers in the first couple months. Best part is, you get to taste test every week or two. ;)
 

MiBor

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Does anyone know how to neutralize a brand new oak barrel?
@crushday, have you tried the sodium carbonate method on your barrel?

I just bought 2 x 20l barrels and I'm a little concerned about over-oaking my wine with them. They are made from white American oak, not French or Hungarian oak, and I'd like to leach some "oakiness" out of them before putting my wine in there. I'm only interested in the micro-oxidation and concentration of the wine and I plan on adding a controlled amount and specific type of oak to the wine, once the barrels are neutral.
 

crushday

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Exactly the reason for my original question. I have not tried sodium carbonate but will on my next new barrel.

thanks!
 

MiBor

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I'll try it with one of my new barrels. Since I'll be filling both of them with the same wine, I should be able to smell and taste the difference in "oakiness" after a few weeks.
 

MiBor

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So, I received my 2 barrels today and upon closer inspection I realized that the inside of the staves on both of them is completely charred! About 1/8" to 3/16" deeply burned and charred! They were supposed to be medium toast and look nothing like the medium toasted cubes and spirals that I've used before.
Does anyone know if this is normal? I have no prior experience with barrels and I don't know what to expect. Will this charr dissolve in water and expose the wood of the staves to the wine? Should I send them back?
 

mainshipfred

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Put some water in them and if it comes out black they are charred not toasted. Toasted will come out as a light brown color. Charred is not really recommended for wine.
 

Ajmassa

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So, I received my 2 barrels today and upon closer inspection I realized that the inside of the staves on both of them is completely charred! About 1/8" to 3/16" deeply burned and charred! They were supposed to be medium toast and look nothing like the medium toasted cubes and spirals that I've used before.
Does anyone know if this is normal? I have no prior experience with barrels and I don't know what to expect. Will this charr dissolve in water and expose the wood of the staves to the wine? Should I send them back?
Lol. Yep. Initially I thought the exact same thing when looking into my 1st barrel last year. It looks badly charred but it’s not.
And it doesn’t resemble the spirals or cubes because I believe they are toasted differently. Kinda like baked in an oven whereas the barrels are over open flames for however long that specific toasting calls for. Just make sure ya do the proper new barrel prep work
American medium on a new 5gal barrel will get ya there quick. Don’t forget to check it often! And good luck.
 

MiBor

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Thank you for your replies. I looked again at the listing for the barrels that I purchased and they are described as "medium charred", but also as suitable for "aging wine". Personally, I believe that they are completely charred and not usable for wine. I asked the seller to remove the wine part from the listing and approve my return request. I thought that I really got a good deal getting 2 barrels for the price of 1 Vadai of the same capacity. You live, you learn, I guess....
 

MiBor

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If you really want to make the barrel neutral fast, use a sodium carbonate solution soak, about 7grams per gallon of water, you'll have to leave it in there for several days and then drain and rinse, followed by a soak of equal time of Kmeta/citric acid solution to neutralize remaining carbonate.
I ended up purchasing 2 new 5gal Vadai barrels (which actually hold 6 gallons minus 1 750ml bottle) and ran the fast neutralization experiment on one of them. I soaked the barrels with K-Meta and Citric Acid for 3 days, than rinsed and replaced the solution in one barrel with water + 40g sodium carbonate for another 3 days. After that I rinsed and refiled both barrels with K-Meta and Citric.
One observation I made was that the 3 day old sodium carbonate solution was a lot darker in color when it came out of the barrel than the 6 days old K-Meta/Citric solution.
I put the same wine in both of the barrels and last night I checked them both after one week of aging. I think it may be too early to tell but the barrel without the sodium carbonate solution already gave the wine a slight hint of oak taste and smell, but the other one didn't.
I'll keep checking every week for the planned 2 months of aging and I'll post my conclusion after that.
 

MiBor

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Last night I checked the wine in the 2 Vadai barrels again. The wine in the one barrel that received the sodium carbonate treatment was fine, with a distinct oak smell and taste, but not over-oaked. The barrel definitely softened the wine and created some visible oxidation, although I kept topping off every 2-3 days. The wine in the other barrel had a very pronounced oak smell and taste and I had to rack it out of the barrel. Upon racking I found out that the top 1/4 of the wine had oxidized from red to brown. It also had a more pronounced acidic taste to it. I measured the pH and found out that it dropped from 3.71 to 3.63. I smelled it again and I think that I got a whiff of vinegar along with the oak. I don't know what went wrong. The wine had around 85ppm SO2 when I put it in the barrel and I thought it would be protected for the time it had to be in the barrel. Is it possible that some of the citric acid that I used along with k-meta for soaking, penetrated into the staves and was released into the wine later? Was the barrel tainted with Acetobacter, even though it was new?
 

Johnd

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I can't imagine that a properly topped and sealed barrel could possibly oxidize 1/4 of its volume in 9 days, nor that it could over oak a wine in 9 days. I've used 6 gallon Vadai barrels for years and left first wines in them routinely for a month. When the barrels were neutral, I've had wines in them for over 6 months with no oxidation issues at all.

Did you follow the Vadai preparation instructions? They include filling the barrels with nearly boiling water on the outside heads as well as the inside. This activity would certainly reduce any concerns about the barrels coming infected. That, coupled with your sulfite / citric acid solution, and high sulfite content in your wine should alleviate infection as an issue.

What wine are you putting in these barrels? When was it made? How has it been stored prior to introducing it into the barrels?
 

MiBor

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What wine are you putting in these barrels? When was it made? How has it been stored prior to introducing it into the barrels?
The wine I put in those barrels is a Chilean Rapel Casa Rosa blend (Merlot/Syrah/Cab.Sauv) made from juice buckets this spring. It was stored in 6 gal glass carboys until I transferred it into the barrels. I checked it every month for SO2 and tasted it along the way and it was OK. I added tannin to it a couple of times and did a small acid adjustment in the summer, with tartaric acid.

I don't know how and why the wine in that barrel got to this point, that's why I asked the question in this forum. I was hoping that maybe someone with more experience could shine some light on the issue.
I don't have any prior experience with barrels and I need to understand what happened before I feel comfortable putting another wine in that barrel. I'm also looking for some guidance on what to do.

Did you follow the Vadai preparation instructions? They include filling the barrels with nearly boiling water on the outside heads as well as the inside. This activity would certainly reduce any concerns about the barrels coming infected. That, coupled with your sulfite / citric acid solution, and high sulfite content in your wine should alleviate infection as an issue.
I did the barrel preparation as described in the instructions that came with the barrels. The only deviation was the sodium carbonate test, but I did that on the barrel that's still OK.
I used the silicone bungs from More Wine that they recommend for these barrels, not the wooden bungs from Vadai. I keep the barrels in my finished basement, which is very dry because I have to run a dehumidifier down there year round. I keep the barrels on stands that I mounted on furniture dollies for added mobility. They are sitting 8" above the basement floor.

As far as oak taste, I don't like my wines very oak-y. I understand others don't mind strong oak taste and smell in their wine, but I like a light level of oak and that's what I'm going by. That was the reason why I wanted to test the fast neutralization of the barrel in the first place.

Tonight I'll rack the other barrel into a glass carboy and store both barrels with citric/k-meta until I can figure out what happened. I keep thinking about it and the only thing I can maybe point a finger at is that the barrel with the oxidized wine had a small leak at the top (between two staves, near the bung hole) that only showed up after I put wine in the barrel. It was not there when I had water in it. The wine seeped through that small hole for 3-4 days until it stopped and I thought the issue was resolved.

Does anyone have any recommendations on what I should do at this point? Is there a test to check for Acetobacter, or a way to get rid of it, if that's the case?
 

MiBor

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I figured out what happened with the oxidized wine in that barrel. All I'm going to say is that somebody messed with one of my carboys, taking a magnum of my wine and replacing it with the same amount of a really bad, undrinkable and oxidized commercial wine. That wine ended up in the barrel that I thought had a problem and it got worse very quickly. I'm making the "thief" dump the whole carboy down the drain, just to prove a point.
 

Ajmassa

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I figured out what happened with the oxidized wine in that barrel. All I'm going to say is that somebody messed with one of my carboys, taking a magnum of my wine and replacing it with the same amount of a really bad, undrinkable and oxidized commercial wine. That wine ended up in the barrel that I thought had a problem and it got worse very quickly. I'm making the "thief" dump the whole carboy down the drain, just to prove a point.
Lol. Aw man. Bringing back memories for me. Though I didn’t caught by replacing with old oxidized wine. Nope. What did me in was my buddy going home and getting sick all over their brand new white couch turning it purple. Our parents grew up together and they were well aware where the wine came from. And his mother will still bring that up 20+ years later!
Here’s hoping the “wine thief” learns a hard earned lesson.
 
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