Racking question

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bluemilk

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If i'm making a 55 gallon batch of red in a white oak barrel is it expected to have a secondary barrel to rack into? My strategy was to bottle old wine out of the barrel and new wine into it. So, if im understanding the process properly, i'll need to rack out of that barrel with the new wine several times to perform different tasks. Does this mean I need to invest into a second barrel? Would just having a 55gal stainless barrel reserved for racking be suitable? Seems very costly but another oak barrel means lot of work year round assorted with proper care of the barrel if im storing dry (burning sulfur sticks inside it every 6 months).

Just trying to conceptualize what it really takes to do 55 gallons.
 

Rice_Guy

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(from an oak cube person, not a barrel owner)
The number one function of a barrel is to add flavor notes to the wine. Flavor gets used up. As such there is a usage schedule with the first wine in a new barrel being a shorter time than second wine going into that barrel. When the flavor has been developed to the desired level the oak is removed and alternate form of storage is used. Wineries which have multiple barrels will have a variety of ages so that blending of heavily oaked wine from a new barrel is mixed with lightly oaked wine from a barrel on its third cycle.

From a process point an oak barrel is work, sulfur as you noted, topping off, cleaning. Stainless and glass are less work, one can let the wine sit and spend winter in Arizona. A used neutral barrel could be used for storage function but you will never get away from monthly checking. A less important function a barrel does is to concentrate the wine/ flavors (AKA angels share) To do this an older neutral barrel works so is your goal partly to concentrate flavors.

My look at your original post is you want to combine a storage function with a flavor function, ,,, as was done before 304 stainless and HDPE or even a disposable metalized bag lining a pallet days. It can be done, ,,, but to make life easier the impervious container wins when time is involved.
 

bluemilk

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So from a cost and maintenance perspective it seems like the wiser choice would be to purchase a set of 5 used 15.5 gallon stainless steel beer kegs. I could suspend oak chips or cubes inside the kegs from a bung. This would allow me some compartmentalization that a barrel doesnt afford. If I screw up one, it wouldnt ruin the entire batch. I could also oak at different rates to test what its adding. I would need another set to swap into when rackong but that just seems to be the most feasible for me.

Thanks for the thoughtful replies!
 

heatherd

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So from a cost and maintenance perspective it seems like the wiser choice would be to purchase a set of 5 used 15.5 gallon stainless steel beer kegs. I could suspend oak chips or cubes inside the kegs from a bung. This would allow me some compartmentalization that a barrel doesnt afford. If I screw up one, it wouldnt ruin the entire batch. I could also oak at different rates to test what its adding. I would need another set to swap into when rackong but that just seems to be the most feasible for me.

Thanks for the thoughtful replies!
I would go with fermentation buckets for fermenting and age in your barrel. I use 7-gallon fermenters, but you can also use food-safe Brute trash cans.
7.9 Gallon Fermenting Bucket, Brand: LD Carlson (labelpeelers.com)
BRUTE® Food Handling Containers | BRUTE® 32 Gal Food Handling Gray | RCP (rubbermaidcommercial.com)
 

bluemilk

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Yes, the plan is to ferment in the brute trash cans. I like the idea of a barrel. Can you describe what I would rack into with only one barrel? Would I rack the wine later on back into the brute trash cans? Is the concept to transfer only for a few hours (until the barrel can be cleaned of lees?) Then the wine put right back in to finish in the oak?
 

winemaker81

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@bluemilk, barrels require a lot more planning that you may realize. IMO it's worth it, but preparation is not optional if you want a good result.

I ferment in 32 gallon Rubbermaid Brutes, making about half the quantity you are planning. I do 4 or 5 lugs per Brute (36 lbs each) so that the brutes are light enough to move (144 to 180 lbs).

A barrel produces different results from oak adjuncts such as cubes. Adjuncts provide oak flavoring only, while barrels also produce a concentrating effect -- water and alcohol evaporate through the wood of a barrel, concentrating the other wine constituents. This has a cost -- I need to start with 16 gallons of wine to produce 14.25 gallons of finished wine at the end of the year. The "angel's share" as it's called in the bourbon industry is roughly 10% of the barrel volume for my barrels. This varies by barrel volume and exact wood species.

On this point I disagree with @Rice_Guy. The concentration effect is the main reason I use a barrel; all other effects of barrels can be duplicated more cheaply in other ways. Barrels have to be maintained and topped up on a regular basis. If the concentration is not desired, use stainless steel or glass with oak adjuncts.

@Johnd uses large barrels and may be able to provide guidance on larger barrels.

Also note that oak character in barrels is a finite resource -- initially it can be very strong and especially for small barrels, wine may be left in only for a relatively short amount of time (4 to 8 weeks) and must be removed to avoid over-oaking. This diminishes with usage and the oak character is used up by the time the barrel is ~3 yo. The evaporation/concentration still works, but oak adjuncts must be added to get oak character. My barrels are coming up on 12 yo and have no remaining oak character -- I add oak cubes for that purpose.

I purposefully purchased used barrels so I can leave the wine in for a year, and control the oak character by adding desired amounts adjuncts. Also, while my barrels are French oak, I can add anything I want to produce different effects, including mixing oaks.

Invest in a pump. My barrels are 54 liters (14.25 US gallons) and once full they do not move. A lot of folks like the All-in-One vacuum pump -- there's a thread for it and the company owner (member of this forum) is highly rated for excellent customer service. I purchased a basic wine pump from MoreWine! for about $80 USD, and it works fine. A web search will produce other options in a variety of price ranges.

MoreWine! has a selection of free manuals, including barrel care. There are many other free resources, including Wine Maker Magazine.
 

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