Barrel Care
Empty Barrel Storage
Method 1 - Dry Storage
Stage 1
1) Barrels should be visibly clean and in good condition.
2) Set barrels outside, properly rinse and drain for one hour.
3) Rotate to locate bung hole at 12 o'clock position.
4) Sulfur gas for approximately three seconds and leave barrel in this position for one hour with (Dixie) paper cup in bung.
5) After one hour, remove cup and rotate bung hole to six o'clock position to ensure proper drying during storage.
6) Barrel should then be left outside for 24 hours to allow sulfur gas to disperse.
7) Move back inside next day for storage and leave unbunged.
8) This process should be sufficient for a minimum of four weeks.
Stage 2
1) After four weeks, move barrels back outside. 2) Again, sulfur gas for approximately three seconds. 3) Insert paper cup in bung hole for one hour to allow gas to warm up, remove paper cup, leave outside for 24 hours and then move back inside. Barrels are then stored unbunged at 3 o'clock or 9 o'clock position.
Note:
When using this method it is important that you have a facility that is fairly humid (at least 60%) to maintain the barrel while storing empty.
One half stick of sulfur is equivalent to three seconds of gassing at 15-20 PSI.
Advantages:
This method allows a minimum of sulfur to be absorbed by, and retained in, the barrel.
Research also suggests a minimum amount of volatile acidity present in the barrel after storing barrels in this manner.
Empty Barrel Storage
Method 2 - Dry Storage
1) Barrels should be properly rinsed and drained for one hour.
2) Barrels should be visibly clean and in good condition.
3) Barrels should be sulfur gassed for three seconds (or sulfur stick) and then be sealed with a wooden bung. When using sulfur sticks, be sure not to allow any sulfur drippings to fall into the barrel.
4) Barrels should then be checked every five to six weeks and sulfur process above should be performed as needed.
Note:
If you use this method, it is important to soak the barrel with hot water (140 degrees) prior using this method.
Disadvantages:
This method lends itself to a higher rate of volatile acidity than does method 1.
Larger amounts of sulfur seem to be absorbed by the wood using this method than using method 1.
Empty Barrel Storage
Method 3 - Wet Storage
1) Barrels should be properly rinsed and drained for one hour.
2) Barrels should be visibly clean and in good condition.
3) Fill barrel with water.
4) Dissolve 100 parts per million sulfur dioxide (sodium bisulfate) and one gram per liter of citric acid into water.
5) It is important to prepare this solution in water prior to putting it in the barrel to ensure it is properly dissolved.
Disadvantages:
The water solution will extract a considerable amount of the barrel's oak character.
There will be more sulfur absorbed into the wood as compared to the other two methods mentioned.

New Barrel Preparation
& Care of Older Barrels
To properly prepare new barrels certain precautions should be taken to lessen the possibilities of inadvertently damaging the wood by over-stressing, which is a direct cause from swelling the barrels too quickly.

The preferred method of preparing barrels for use is to swell the wood in easy stages. This can be done in various ways:

Method #1
Place 15 gallons of cold water in the barrel and stand the barrel on end for four hours per end, then lay the barrel on its side and fill completely. Swell entire barrel for total of at least 12 hours. In some cases total swelling may take as much as three days.

Method #2
Place 20 gallons of cold water into horizontal barrel for four hours, place additional 20 gallons of water into barrel (40 gallons total) and swell for four more hours, finally, fill barrel completely full and swell four more hours or longer, to a maximum of four days.

Method #3
Place 30 gallons of cold water into horizontal barrel and let the barrel swell overnight. Fill barrel completely the next morning and let the barrel swell the entire day or longer, to a maximum of three days.

Under no circumstances should hot water be used for swelling a barrel, as this may result in cracking or breaking otherwise sound wood; especially the bung stave since it is the weakest stave of the entire barrel.

Do not use chemicals in the preparation of new barrels, as this can cause a breakdown in the cellular structure of the wood, as well as giving the wood a chemical flavor.

If you find it important to leach the barrel before its first use, this should be done by using warm water approximately 90 degrees Fahrenheit, after the barrel has completely swelled. The warm water should be changed when the temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The process should be repeated three times or more until the winemaker is satisfied.

If your barrels are stored in an environment of reduced humidity (60% or less), such as in the presence of air conditioning, it is not advisable to wash the exterior of the barrels on a regular basis. The constant wetting and drying of the wood will weaken the outside surface and may result in cracked or broken staves, especially the bung stave as it is the weakest part of the barrel.

It is advisable to use soft wood or silicon bungs rather then oak bungs as the driving in of the oak bungs often results in cracked or split bung staves. When any wooden bung is used in your barrels, the bungs must always be aligned with respect for the grain.

For storage of empty barrels, a regular schedule of maintenance must be observed. A typical maintenance schedule would be to rinse with cold water all empty barrels immediately when wine is removed, let barrels sit with bung down for 24 hours, then sulfur with sulfur stick. The rinse, drain and sulfur stick routine would best be repeated every four weeks. If a barrel must be emptied for repair, the above mentioned maintenance schedule should be observed until the barrel can be repaired and placed back into service.

If a barrel has sat empty for more than two months, it should be treated as a new barrel and be soaked up slowly to prevent damage to the wood. This slow soaking of older barrels that have sat empty for an extended period, will allow the wood to swell normally and will rinse sulfur residue from the interior of the barrel.

If tartrate buildup becomes a problem with your barrels and must be removed, the preferred method would be to fill your barrel with very warm water (90-100 degrees Fahrenheit) and let the barrel slowly cool off. When the temperature of the water reaches 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the water should be emptied. Repeat this procedure until the barrel is free of deposits. The warm water will dissolve the tartrates without recourse to harsh chemicals that can destroy the cell structure of the wood and give your barrels a chemical taste.

Barrel Repair
Flagging and oak spiles are required for the repair of joint leaks, end grain leaks or in the stave leaks in your oak barrels.

INSTRUCTIONS:

I. End Grain Leaks:
1. Scrape chime area clean in order to identify porous location.
2. Using an awl or ice pick, start a small hole at the leak about 1/4" deep at right angles to the chime or lip of the barrel.
3. With a small hammer, tap a sharpened spile into hole. Break off then tap again with hammer.
4. Scrape repair region clean, then lightly sand.
5. Inspect area to confirm a complete seal. Repeat if necessary.

II. In Stave Leaks:
1. Scrape stave clean in order to identify leaking pore.
2. Using an awl, start two small holes on either side of the leak at right angles to the stave and tap in 2 spiles. The spiles will pinch the pore closed and stop the leak.
3. Break off end of spiles and tap lightly with hammer.
4. Scrape area clean and lightly sand.
5. Inspect and repeat if necessary.

III. Joint Leaks:
*Often times simply tapping both sides of the leaking joint region and tightening the steel hoops will stop the leak. If this procedure does not work, try the following.*
1. Empty barrel completely.
2. Loosen bilge, quarter and head hoops of barrel.
3. With a joint spacer or a small wooden wedge, simply separate leaking joint region from the top.
4. Using flagging strips, pull a piece between leaking joint about 5" on both sides of leak area.
5. Pull out joint spacer or wedge and tighten your head, quarter, and bilge hoops around repaired barrel.
6. Fill with water to inspect repaired area.