We have a two 50 gal. oak wine barrel we have been making wine with for several years. We are planning to skip a year because of over supply. How should we be storing wine barrels when we’re not using them? Enjoy your emails read them all.
Mike M. — IL
I’m glad you asked this question about storing wine barrels. Wine barrel maintenance is something that is often overlooked or ignored by the home winemaker — particularly when storing wine barrels between uses. Here’s how to store wine barrels…
The last thing you want to do when storing wine barrels is to let them dry out. You never want the barrel empty. Once a barrel has been brought into service you want the wood to stay soaked and expanded for the rest of its working life. This keeps the barrel’s staves tight against one another and free from leaks. Allowing the wood to dry-out and re-expand randomly with each batch of wine will eventually cause the wine barrel to start leaking if done too many times.
When storing wine barrels between uses you will want to fill it with a water/sulfite solution. You can use either potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite. This will keep the barrel nice and tight as well as free from spoilage. You will also want to add citric acid to the water. Lowering the water’s pH with citric acid will allow the sulfite in the water to be stronger and more protective. We offer a barrel sterilizing kit that has both sodium metabisulfite and citric acid along with wine barrel maintenance directions.
For a 50 gallon wine barrel we recommend using 1 lb. (16 ounces) of sodium metabisulfite and 1/2 lb. (8 ounces) of citric acid. The same two-to-one proportions can be used for smaller barrels. Here’s what to do:
- Fill the barrel half way with water — cold water is fine.
- Add the sulfite and citric acid.
- Agitate the solution to dissolve the sodium metabisulfite and citric acid.
- Fill the barrel the rest of the way with water.
- Slap in the bung.
You do not want to pre-dissolve the ingredients in another container. The solution will produce fumes that you want to trapped inside the barrel. When you dissolve the ingredients outside the barrel you are loosing some of the fumes.
The sulfite in the barrel will need to be replenished every 6 months. You will not need to add more citric acid, but every 6 months you will need to add another full dose of sodium metabisulfite. This is the basics of how to store wine barrels.
You will want to treat the wine barrel immediately after the wine has been emptied. Allowing the wine barrel to sit even a day or two will give time for it to sour. Once the wine is emptied, rinse and drain the barrel as many times as necessary for clear water to run out. When it’s time to use the wine barrel again, simply drain and give the barrel a light rinsing.
Knowing how to store a wine barrel is not only important because they are costly, but because wine barrels can never be brought back into use once they have spoiled. Once they’ve soured, they’re done. But don’t let this scare you. Take care when storing wine barrels; follow the steps above; and there will never be any question as to their dependability.
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.