When to retire a Barrel

Wine Making Talk

Help Support Wine Making Talk:

Donz

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 1, 2016
Messages
259
Reaction score
160
On average, how many years do you guys use a barrel?

I have a 55l French oak barrel that I bought back in 2016 and it's starting to lose its shine. It still oaks decently but not the same as it used to. Wondering how much longer I should use it...
 

Johnd

Senior Member
WMT Supporter
Joined
Jun 10, 2015
Messages
6,810
Reaction score
6,970
Location
South Louisiana
On average, how many years do you guys use a barrel?

I have a 55l French oak barrel that I bought back in 2016 and it's starting to lose its shine. It still oaks decently but not the same as it used to. Wondering how much longer I should use it...
if you keep it clean and full, you can use it for a lot longer. It’ll totally lose its ability to provide oak flavor, but you can use oak staves to shore that up. It’ll continue to provide micro-oxygenation and concentration for your wines.
 

Mac60

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 29, 2016
Messages
175
Reaction score
254
On average, how many years do you guys use a barrel?

I have a 55l French oak barrel that I bought back in 2016 and it's starting to lose its shine. It still oaks decently but not the same as it used to. Wondering how much longer I should use it...
Kinda of crazy I have a 30 gallon French oak barrel I bought back in 2000, I have been using for 20 years, I have been adding WineStix for oak flavor the past 6 years, still works great. Would not even think about retiring it.
 

NorCal

Super Moderator
Super Moderator
Joined
Apr 17, 2014
Messages
3,331
Reaction score
3,702
Location
Sierra Foothills, Nor Cal
I think a barrel has an oak flavor half life of 1 year, so 100% oak year one, 50% year 2, 25% year 3.... I have a barrel that I love, seals tight, vacuum sound every time I remove the bung and it is on it's 6th season. I supplement the oak with spirals, but plan on keeping it for years to come.
 

Donz

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 1, 2016
Messages
259
Reaction score
160
Thanks for all your input guys. My barrel still has no problem oaking, it’s a smaller 55l. Maybe it just needs a good cleaning... I normally clean it with hot water and sulfite. Anything else I could do to clean it up?

my last batch of wine was in there for 4.5 months, maybe it’s just overoaked.
 

Johnd

Senior Member
WMT Supporter
Joined
Jun 10, 2015
Messages
6,810
Reaction score
6,970
Location
South Louisiana
Thanks for all your input guys. My barrel still has no problem oaking, it’s a smaller 55l. Maybe it just needs a good cleaning... I normally clean it with hot water and sulfite. Anything else I could do to clean it up?

my last batch of wine was in there for 4.5 months, maybe it’s just overoaked.
Give the inside a good looking over, or best you can, it’s hard to see in there. My 30 gallon, which just got refilled, had a pretty good (1/16”) layer of very hard lees / tartrate that was hard to remove, mostly on the bottom of the barrel. It took some boiling water sitting in there plus my pressure washer to clean it well. The wine was in there for two years, yours may not be as stubborn if you have any in there.
 

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,356
Reaction score
1,750
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
An acquaintance had barrels that were 20+ years old, so as long as the barrel is clean and tight, it's still good as an aging container.

I purchased a 10 yo barrel last fall specifically because I wanted a neutral barrel. It seals tight, gotta fight to get the bung out. Similar to @Johnd, I use oak cubes for the oak flavoring. I can leave wine in the barrel for a year without concern for over-oaking. Besides, I can mix-n-match oak type and toast level, along with amounts, to achieve whatever I want.

If things work out, I'll purchase another 10 (well, now 11) yo barrel this fall and intend to use French cubes in one and Hungarian in the other to see what the differences are.
 

Sage

Junior Member
WMT Supporter
Joined
Aug 23, 2014
Messages
755
Reaction score
1,109
In this area, you can buy 2-3 yr old french oak barrels for $40 or less. I just don't make enough to use one. I did buy one and cut it up, planed the slats and retoasted for oaking.
 
Last edited:

Jbu50

Supporting Members
WMT Supporter
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
89
Reaction score
44
Location
Ontario
Micro-oxygenation? Concentration? I have a 10L and 30L that I have been using for about 5-7 years that I think have become neutral. What's the benefit of micro-oxygenation or concentration? Barrels are hard to work with. If you guys are keeping your old barrels around and putting oak spirals in them, isn't it easier to just use glass and put oak spirals in your carboys, etc? Easier to clean glass...
 

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,356
Reaction score
1,750
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
If you guys are keeping your old barrels around and putting oak spirals in them, isn't it easier to just use glass and put oak spirals in your carboys, etc?
Aging in a barrel produces a flavor and aroma you can't get any other way. IMO the character you get from fresh(ish) oak is only 25% of the benefit of a barrel.

In 2019 I aged 14 gallons of wine in a barrel for 10 months, including 3 months with 6 oz French oak cubes. Another 5 gallons were carboy aged, no oak. The two wines could not be more different. The carboy aged is fruity, to the point where most tasters believe there is residual sugar. The barrel aged has the fruit, but it's mixed with oak character and "something else", producing a surprising complexity.

Other wines, aged in carboys with oak cubes, don't come anywhere near close.

My 54 liter barrels evaporate about 10% per year, so I need to start with 60 liters to net 54. That cost is worth it -- quality over quantity.
 

mainshipfred

Junior Member
WMT Supporter
Joined
Feb 25, 2017
Messages
4,185
Reaction score
2,972
Location
Centerville, Northern Virginia
Aging in a barrel produces a flavor and aroma you can't get any other way. IMO the character you get from fresh(ish) oak is only 25% of the benefit of a barrel.

In 2019 I aged 14 gallons of wine in a barrel for 10 months, including 3 months with 6 oz French oak cubes. Another 5 gallons were carboy aged, no oak. The two wines could not be more different. The carboy aged is fruity, to the point where most tasters believe there is residual sugar. The barrel aged has the fruit, but it's mixed with oak character and "something else", producing a surprising complexity.

Other wines, aged in carboys with oak cubes, don't come anywhere near close.

My 54 liter barrels evaporate about 10% per year, so I need to start with 60 liters to net 54. That cost is worth it -- quality over quantity.
To Jbu50's point carboys are much easier but in my opinion the quality of the wine aged in a barrel is far superior. Oak has a tendency to reduce the fruitiness of a wine. Some wines can take a lot of it and some you want to keep the fruitiness. Norton is such a fruit bomb I like to oak the crap out of it. Others such as Zinfandel I want the fruitiness and a Pinot I like to have just a little oak. But either way the micro-oxygenation play a huge role in the quality of the wine.
 

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,356
Reaction score
1,750
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
To Jbu50's point carboys are much easier but in my opinion the quality of the wine aged in a barrel is far superior.
Absotively! Not frigging with a barrel makes things SOOOO much easier. But the wine I aged in a barrel is so much better, that most of my reds will be barrel aged in the future.

It's not for everyone. The cost, effort required for barrel aging, and fruit type doesn't fit everyone's interests.
 

Ajmassa

just a guy
Joined
Oct 25, 2016
Messages
4,125
Reaction score
4,260
Location
S. Jersey/Philadelphia area
i once read on here about the humidity effects on the micro-ox. And that if the room is dry then what’s evaporating out of the wine is from the water portion—leaving the ethanol and increasing the abv. But if the room is humid the water remains and the ethanol evaporates out— decreasing the abv.

But i rarely see this mentioned ever so i wonder if the difference is minuscule. OR — can barrel aging in a humid room actually be a bad thing?
 

Boatboy24

No longer a newbie, but still clueless.
Joined
Mar 18, 2012
Messages
14,643
Reaction score
13,252
Location
DC Suburbs
@Ajmassa : I've also read that there may be differences in evaporation due to humidity. I don't know exactly what they are, but I can tell you I lose a lot more to the angels in winter (when humidity in the house is around 40%), vs summer. Unfortunately, I don't have a temp/humidity controlled space - just means I top up a bit more when the heat is running.

To the question about benefits of barrels, I'm currently using 3 - two of which are 5 or more years old and very much neutral. The other is a 40L which has been in use for about a year. I recently took a Touriga out of that barrel after 6 months and the difference between the wine that was in that barrel and the same "extra" wine I had in a carboy is astounding. And it isn't just the oak. As others have mentioned, there's much more than that.
 
Last edited:

Latest posts

Top