When to barrel?

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Jbu50

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Got a new 46L Hungarian oak barrel. When to barrel? In the past I've usually waited a number of months before adding new wine to barrel in order to avoid having too much sediment drop into the bottom of the barrel, and to avoid the problem of cleaning out the sediment afterwards. (In one occasion the sediment was hard as a rock and I didn't know how to clean it out.) But I'm also seeing report of people adding new wine to new oak barrels which obviously would bring about a big clean up afterwards. I assume folks have figured out how to clean these barrels afterwards. So, what is the general consensus out there on this?

Secondly, the other issue i'm worried about is over-oaking the wine with a brand new barrel. Yet, I see people do this without hesitation. Does the initial blast of oak from a new barrel fade over time inside the barrel. At the moment I filled up my new barrel with a collection of Frankenstein wine in order to try to take the edge off of the initial blast of oak. Then later i'll add my new wine. Is this something that people do as well?
 

Johnd

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My typical timing for adding wine to the barrel is after MLF is complete and the wine is ready to be sulfited, mostly for the reason you cited, to reduce the amount of sediment that accumulates in the barrel. I should note that I'm using 60 gallon new barrels, and the wine sits in them for 1.5 - 2 years.

Your first wine in the new 46 L will probably not see more than two months, at which time the oak will probably be at a satisfactory level, and you'll rack / clean the barrel before adding another wine. I've never used a "sacrificial" wine to absorb the initial oak impact. I try to leave a wine long enough to have just a smidge more oakiness than I would like in the finished product, as it will lay back just a bit as it ages in bulk or in bottles.

Typical timing for a barrel of your size would have the first wine in for a couple of months, second wine for 4 months, third wine for 8 months, all of these times are subject to taste!! Once your barrel hits two years old, you won't get much oaking from it, but you'll still get the benefits of micro oxygenation and concentration, both of which work magic on wines. When my barrels went neutral, the addition of oak adjuncts like Wine Stix, spirals, or staves was my preferred method of oaking.
 

Jbu50

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Great info - I’m gonna pull the sacrificial wine and get going with this! Inspired! Thanks!
 

winemaker81

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I use a power washer to clean my barrels. I picked up angled tips (90 degree and 135 degree) that I use to get "top" around the bung hold and the ends.

Are you going to toss the Frankenwine? If not, it's as good as any to break the barrel in, and if you do over-oak it, you won't be as unhappy. Depending on the wine's characteristics, it might make good topup wine for other batches.
 

Jbu50

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The last time I bought a new barrel my cab wasn’t ready and I filled the barrel with chardonnay (47L) to keep it full and the chardonnay got harshly over-oaked after two months. I got the impression that new barrels therefore impact a very harsh infusion at the beginning. That’s why I loaded my current barrel up with a sacrificial frankenwine. But if new barrels don’t necessarily do this kind of thing I’m willing to pull my frankenwine out and get my 2020 cab in there – but this time I’ll have to monitor it more closely.

The frankenwine that I have in the new 46L barrel consists of sauv. Blanc, viognier, pinot noir, grenache, merlot, and cab. Sauv. Who knows, it might be a hit!
 

Dom Lausic

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Hey Jonny!

After pressing, I typically like to let my wine settle in demijohns for a while. Anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on my schedule. You just have to keep a very close eye (nose!) on the wine. WIne sitting on gross lees for too long will start to produce H2S (rotten egg) odours. Any signs of H2S and you need to splash rack. I've also gone directly to barrel after pressing, but same rule applies. Rack after the gross lees settles. And if lees hasn't settle for too long, it is very easy to rinse away.

I agree with @Johnd .I put my 2019 Syrah in a brand new 46L Hungarian oak barrel and it had plenty of oak after 2 months. So i racked from there and put into a neutral barrel so that it could age with the benefit of micro-oxidation. When I racked the Syrah, I was concerned the wine was over oaked, but I let it settle in the neutral barrel for a couple months, and its great. I wouldn't waste good oak on Frankenwine! Just plan to have a second batch ready to go in after a couple of months. But as JohnD mentioned, keep a close eye on it. Small barrels have more surface contact with wine than large barrels. So you won't need a lot of time for the first fill.

In terms of barrel washing, I agree with @winemaker81 . Just use a power washer. If you only have a hose, I've put in some PBW (sodium bicarbonate) to wash the barrels. PBW comes from the beer brewing world, but it's amazing for cleaning wine equipment. But you have to be care with wood, as PBW is caustic because of high alkalinity. So to neutralized that, i rinse the inside of the barrel with a citric acid/KMS solution (2:1). I haven't had any issues thus far!
 

Jbu50

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I will take your advice and pull out the sacrificial wine and get going with my new batch and closely monitor its progress. Thanks!

I'm also starting to realize from previous experience with barrels that the wine that is in the barrel perhaps inevitably penetrates the oak and leaves behind a residual taste that the next wine may inherit. This may be good, or not. Isn't that the reason why spirit manufacturers seek out used sherry barrels? Having said all this I think this is another reason for not using sacrificial wine because it may influence the flavour of the next wine that goes in.

And, is there anybody else out here that agrees with winemaker81 that new barrels impact a very harsh infusion at the beginning?
 

winemaker81

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And, is there anybody else out here that agrees with winemaker81 that new barrels impact a very harsh infusion at the beginning?
I wouldn't call the infusion harsh -- it's simply easy to over-oak the wine because of the abundance of tannin. Look at the first 2 pages of the of the Barrels & Oaking sub-forum -- you'll find discussions regarding this.

Also, on WineMakerMag are articles regarding barrels. The following article is for paid members only, so I'm pasting a couple of snippets from the article:

When the first and second wine go in, a good guideline to follow is one WineMaker’s Technical Editor Bob Peak has stated in previous articles: One week per gallon (4 L). This means for a 10-gallon (38-L) barrel, the wine can stay in for approximately 10 weeks. This timeframe is definitely not enough time for any sort of oxygenation effects to take place (at first). But as we rotate more batches of wine through the barrel, each batch can kick its shoes off and stay a little longer than the last, as is the case with another schedule guideline that was recommended to me by a couple professional winemakers: Double the barrel aging time for each batch until the barrel is fully broken in.​
...​
According to Daniel Pambianchi’s Techniques in Home Winemaking, the first one or two wines aged in the barrel will be higher in tannin. The subsequent wines will be of higher quality because the wine can age longer as tannins are transferred from the barrel to the wine at a slower rate. Pambianchi goes on to recommend leaving a portion of the first couple barrel-aged batches un-oaked to be blended later to adjust for the right level of oak flavor. This is wise in case the wine unintentionally gets too much oak flavor.​


The entire article is worth reading. Personally, I'd leave the Frankenwine in the barrel for the "1 week per gallon". Oak flavoring is easy -- getting the micro-oxygenation and evaporation can be done only by time in barrel.
 

pete1325

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Don't overthink it. Oak will dissipate in the bottle and round off any strong oaky flavors. In the end, it's all good.
 
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