Preparing for Use
Preparing your used wine barrel for use
As with new oak wine barrels, a barrel that has been empty for more than a few weeks will need to be rinsed or filled with water to soak and swell the wood before filling with wine. There are three common and effective methods to swell the barrel:
1. Cold water soak - Fill the barrel 1/2 full with room temperature water and let stand for 2-3 hours, rotate 180 degrees and let stand an additional 2-3 hours. Then fill the barrel with water and check for leaks. If small leakage occurs, let stand for 2-3 hours until the barrel swells, stops seeping and seals itself. Drain the barrel and fill with wine.
2. Hot water soak or “French Method” - Fill the barrel with about 6 gallons of hot water, or about one-tenth full. Insert the bung and slosh the water around or rotate the barrel on its rack so the water comes into contact with all of the interior surfaces of the barrel. Then stand the barrel on end and fill the head area (on the outside of the barrel) with hot water and let it stand for 15 minutes. This is repeated for the other side. Check for any leakage or seepage throughout this process. Then drain the barrel. If no seepage was noted during this process, fill the barrel with wine.
3. Pressure method - Attach a pneumatic fitting to a hard rubber barrel bung. Fill the barrels with about six gallons of water and slosh the water around or rotate the barrel on its rack so the water comes into contact with all of the interior surfaces of the barrel. Insert the bung and pressurize the barrel to approximately 10-15 psi. Rotate the barrel slowly to allow the water to sit on each interior surface area and check for leaks during the rotation. If no seepage was noted during this process, fill the barrel with wine.
For larger leaks not stemmed by soaking and swelling, especially those at the head, tap small barrel spiles (conical wooden plugs) into holes or gaps causing leakage. Use very small, thin wooden wedges for side stave gaps or cracks, but use a thin enough wedge so as to avoid opening a larger space between staves. When leak testing, never allow the same water stand in the barrel for more than 2 days. If the soaking period will exceed 2 days, drain the barrel and refill it with fresh water. This will prevent bacterial and microbial growth that could form in your barrel.
Once filled and leak free, be sure to routinely inspect each barrel and the floor below each barrel stack for evidence of new leakage, especially after topping or removing the bung for any reasons where the natural vacuum that develops within the barrel is breached.
And most importantly, enjoy the finished wine that finally comes out of the barrel the correct way… not through leakage!