Proper barrel care is vital to success in the wine cellar. Let's take a look at the basics.
Before removing your bung from your barrel spray it thoroughly with some inexpensive vodka or grain spirits and wait about ten minutes before removing the bung. Most barrels get infected at the opening (go figure) so prevent it and avoid the problem.
Keep barrels topped up when holding your wine. A full barrel eliminates over exposure to oxygen, preventing spoilage organisms from developing. If your wine goes bad in the barrel, that's right you guessed it, the barrel is bad too.
Sulfite your wines properly to ensure their stability while in bulk storage. Proper sulfiting will always reward you. Know the pH of your wine and sulfite accordingly.
Before filling new barrels....fill with ten gallons of hot water and allow to stand on each head for 12 hours. Then fill completely and let and for 24 hours. This will ensure a tight seal prior to transferring your wine. Allow 24 hours of drying time then burn a sulfur stick to ensure a sterile environment. Please don't put the wine directly in the barrel and find out its leaking, why waste wine?
Clean barrels as soon as they are emptied. Just rinsing isn't going to get it done. Here's a solid protocol.
Fill the barrel with 10 gallons of hot water. Roll and flip the barrel several times. Get a rubber mallet, strike the barrel lightly over the entire stave surfaces you roll it to help dislodge any tartrate or compressed or compacted lee's from the surface.
Use a good barrel cleaner, we recommend Oak Restore by Scott labs. This product keeps water use to a minimum, and does an extremely effective job at gently cleaning the wood surface.
Do not store used barrels empty. If you have no wine to refill with, mix a solution of 1 pound metabisulfite and 8 ounces of citric acid. (59 gallon barrel) Use eye protection and gloves when handling this mixture as it is volatile. Place 10 gallons of hot water in your barrel, add the dissolved mixture and then fill the barrel completely with water. Bung tightly, and keep topped up during storage. When it is time to put your wine back into the barrel, drain the solution. Be sure to flip and roll with about ten gallons of water for the first rinsing, dump and rinse again. Place your barrel on a rack with the bung hole down and your bung removed. Allow to dry for 48 hours. Burn a sulfur stick into the barrel and close with your bung until ready to fill.
Clean the outside of your barrel too. Barrels breathe so if they are moldy on the outside..thats right..dont take any chances. Soda ash and a scrub brush will serve you well.
Once again you can spray down the surface area around the bung or the top portion of the barrel if wine has spilled onto it, with the vodka or grain sprits. This will further ensure no undesirable little swimmers have access to our wine.
Your wine lives in your barrel, so take care of the house properly. It isn't easy, but it is necessary, and well worth the time and effort.