Barrels are scary... Well not the barrel itself, they are actually quite nice to look at and are a valuable wine making tool. What's frightening is the thought of caring for one. Taking care of a child seems easier than what I have read about wine barrel maintenance. They need to be kept clean, in a temperature/ humidity controlled room ( or at least a room that is CLOSE to favorable for barrel storage-this IS home wine making after all, nothing is perfect ) and the preferable way to store them is FULL of wine. Some of these things may not sound scary, but when you look at the price of one you start to get that fight or flight feeling - meaning should I get one, or just run away? Is it worth the trouble and the money to age my wine in a vessel that has been proven time and time again to improve red wine?
The answer: yes!
In this post I will speak about my experience in finding the right barrel for my home winery, in hopes it will help you to make the jump yourself too.
When looking for a wine barrel to age your wine in, there are many factors to consider: What type of oak is a good fit for you wine, and your budget (which usually decides what type of oak you can get.) The volume of wine being made also needs to be considered because you need enough wine to fill the barrel, and be able to maintain and keep up with the angels share (angels share: is a term for the portion (share) of a wine or distilled spirit's volume that is lost to evaporation during aging in oak barrels. In low humidity conditions, the loss to evaporation may be primarily water.)
The first thing I always have to consider is the budget. (OH! the budget.) This is always my main deciding factor. This decided what type of oak I can get. In this case I chose Hungarian oak from Vidai barrels. Hungarian oak is the same oak tree as French barrels, but the tree isn't grown in France! So for a significantly lower price you get a great oak barrel without the price of a French barrel, Great! Hungarian oak barrels also have a tighter grain which releases its oak a little slower, which is perfect for small barrels which impart oak flavors faster than a 60 gallon barrel would.
Another thing to consider is, what flavors are you after? Here is an oak information guide From Morewinemaking. The research was done by Stavin and it helped my to decide what would be beneficial to my wines.
However... Things don't always work out and patience wears thin, and items aren't always in
|American Oak Barrel from Presque Isle|
We're Gonna Need More Wine...
In antipation of getting a barrel this year, I needed to make more wine to slake the barrel's thirst. Well, actually since this is a smaller barrel, it will impart its oak flavors quickly and the wine will need to be racked out and a new one back in. Barrels can be stored empty, but I would prefer that it stay full to avoid spoilage problems therefore ruining the barrel and turn it into a coffee table for my Cave of Manliness. From my vineyard this year I got 12 gallons of Leon Millot and 18 gallons of Frontenac. I also went and bought 12 gallons of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon juice. These juices will be rotated through the barrel to break it in a little before I put my precious vineyard wines in. I also plan to get some Chilean juice just in case I need it. Per the recommendations of winemakers more experienced than me, I was told wine in a new barrel it can be stored for one week per gallon for the first one, and I can expect the next wine to be in there double the time, and then double after that etc. This means that the wines I have, should be able to stay in the barrel until next harvest to avoid keeping the barrel empty.
Eventually wine can be in the barrel for up to a year! This means one thing- MORE BARRELS!
Every year I will have up to four or five reds awaiting barrel time, I can't be waiting forever to rotate the wines, so more barrels will be needed. YES!
As the wine age, I will post my barrel care techniques and how the wine changes with time as it ages in the barrel. I'm really stepping up the wine making now, baby!