When Do I Put My Wine Into Oak Barrels?

Oak Wine Barrel On StandMy son gave me a 5 gallon oak wine barrel as a gift. I have a batch of red wine that I would like to put in the oak barrel and let it age a bit. When do I put the wine in the barrel? Do I let the wine finish up and clear with bentonite first and then put it in the barrel or should it go into the barrel now, let it age for a period of time then finish and bottle it?

Thanks,
David
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Dear David,

Thanks for the great question, and way to go son! An oak wine barrel is really one of the better wine making gifts you can receive as a home wine maker. A lot of people underestimate how valuable the effects of oak aging can be to a wine.

The most common time for a wine to be in barrels is after the fermentation has completed, and the yeast has had time to settle out. That is also when I would recommend you put your wine in the barrel. That being said, the direct answer to your question is: add the bentonite first; let the wine clear; then go to the oak wine barrel.

One thing you have do have to be concerned when aging a wine in a barrel is how long to keep the wine in the barrel. A vast majority of the wineries will barrel-age anywhere from 18 to 30 months. This is perfectly reasonable if using 50 gallons oak barrels, but when using smaller oak barrels, the length of time needs to be much less.

A 5 gallon wine barrel holds only 10% of what a 50 gallon wine barrel can hold, yet the surface contact between the wood and the wine is still about half that of a 50 gallon barrel. What this translates into is: smaller wine barrels will affect the wine much more quickly than larger wine barrels. In the case of 5 gallons versus 50, about 5 times faster.Shop Fermentation Sampler

Because of this, it is easy to over oak the wine when aging in small barrels, especially if you are used to aging in glass jugs. With glass jugs aging too long is hard to do, more forgiving, but with small barrels you can potentially ruin the wine with too much wood.

This is why I always urge anyone aging in smaller barrels to monitor their wine’s flavor progression closely. At least once a month, taste a sample so that the barrel aging effects does not become too much. This can be easily done with a wine thief.

In summary, after you have cleared out the wine yeast is when to put your wine in the barrel, and monitor your wine’s flavor closely, at least monthly. Make sure that the wine does not become to woody or overcome by the effects of the barrel.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

14 thoughts on “When Do I Put My Wine Into Oak Barrels?

  1. I have just recently purchased a new oak barrel its a 15 gallon and now have my concord fermenting once fermentation is complete and I put it into the barrel how long do I need to leave in there before bottling or do you have any advise or tips on what I need to do I am new at this and could use some help. thank you

    • Please keep the air space closed.. keep topping off the barrel. I every 5 months. Take wine out check so2 and clean the barrel wupith o I lean.. fill the barrel with water..and folllow manufactures amount of axiclean. Let set 2 days rinse 3 times with water. Then use citrus acid.. in water for 2 days.. trines then put inn so2,,for 2 days..our wine back in..do this every 5 months. For 24-30 months.. your wine will blow you away.. aging in a barrel. Makes wine the best..been doing this for 22 years with neutral clean barrels.. always keep so2 at 25 ppm. Then your wine is save..be well

  2. Juanita, there is no single answer to your question. It varies based on the size of the barrel, how many times the barrel has been used before, and the type of wine being aged in the barrel. With that being said, I would suggest to you that the best way to go about it is to sample the wine every so often. With a 15 gallon barrel I would suggest every two to four weeks. You are looking for how much woody character the wine is taking on. The wine should also be becoming smoother around the edges. Once it’s to a point you like, simply bottle, but in the end it is up to you to decide.

  3. im planing on buying a 225litre oak barrel do i need to let the wine ferment before i place it in the oak
    barrel or can i just place it in barrel with a rubber bung and a air lock.

    • Steven, the most common time for a wine to be in barrels is after the fermentation has completed, and the yeast has had time to settle out. Then you would age the wine in the barrel.

  4. I just bought a 8 gallon oak barrel. I still like my carboys. This will be new to me, but I will add the wine to it after fermentation is complete, and taste monthly to see when it is ready. Right? How many months compared to racking and reracking from carboy to carboy will it take in a barrel to clear?

  5. I have a small barrel 5 gallons. Over 3 years since last used. Had been filled with water the whole time. What is recommended to clean it. Is it ok to use if sitting that long.

    • Tony, when storing your wine barrel between uses you do want to keep it filled with water and a sulfite solution to prevent spoilage. The following article will discuss storage of the barrels in more detail. http://www.eckraus.com/blog/storing-wine-barrels Getting it ready for use is similar, you want be sure it is clean and sanitized properly. Below is the link to our barrel cleaning and sanitizing items.

      Barrel Maintenance
      http://www.eckraus.com/wine-barrel-maintenance

      • Please keep the air space closed.. keep topping off the barrel. I every 5 months. Take wine out check so2 and clean the barrel wupith o I lean.. fill the barrel with water..and folllow manufactures amount of axiclean. Let set 2 days rinse 3 times with water. Then use citrus acid.. in water for 2 days.. trines then put inn so2,,for 2 days..our wine back in..do this every 5 months. For 24-30 months.. your wine will blow you away.. aging in a barrel. Makes wine the best..been doing this for 22 years with neutral clean barrels.. always keep so2 at 25 ppm. Then your wine is save..be well

      • Yes I have barrels I have used for 20 yrs..when not in use I keep high levels of citrus acid and so2 in the barrel. This hydrated barrel never get Brit. It’s a mold that destroys wine,.from time to time I keep the barrel topped off with water and 1/2 teaspoon of so2….in the old days a sulfur stick was used. But not good as barrels dry out and get brit…so get a barrel book. Clean every 5 months if you have wine in them..rack off..rinse 2 times..then put in oxyclean into the barrrel. Per manufactures suggestion or see a barrel book.after 2 days rinse twice..the put in citrus acid 2 days..rinse then so2 for two days..rinse in replace wine. Or if in non used fill with water and put in so2 and citrus acid.. the higher the acid in storage the better the so2 protects the barrel in non use..be well. Terry

  6. When you have a wine you want to save, transfer the leftover wine from your regular size bottle into the empty half bottle, and then close the bottle with a cork or even saran wrap — you just want to make sure there is a seal.

    • If a vessel is not full use argon gas to chase out the oxygen..or co2 gas.. I use argon for red and co2 for red..never ever leave and air space in a partially full vessel.. it’s best to keep any vessel full to the top of wine.. in a barrel.the wine evaporates thru the barrel. The old monks in Europe said when barrels went down the angels got their share..but oxygen in wine aging spoils the wine fast..so keep vessels full or full of gas on the top. Be well terry

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