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.
Where did you come up with this rate for sulfite? It seems awfully high.
Dustin, this dosage is one we have been recommending for over 40 years. We do not know its original source. If you look elsewhere on the internet you will find that dosage is typical. It is not out of line of what you would use for sanitizing fermenters.
my method of storing the barrels when they are not in use may be for more than 6 months is as follows;
1.drain the barrel brush inside with wire brush and fill with water and with little meta bi sullphate or washing soap.and rinse two or three times and brush (from inside).
2.When you are doing this tap the barrel from outside with hammer to clear all the micro pores or any sediments.Keep horizontal and roll.
3.Once they are completely empty put under the hot sun upside down and keep for absolute dry.
4.You can keep Neem plant leaves ( contains sulphar )or any dehydrating cum de odourising agent.and cover with plastic bag.
5.This is as good as the new barrel,Process with less time and cost Can be applies for several qty..
I am interested in trying your outlined method for storing a small 5-gallon barrel while I will be away for 3 months.
My only concern is that during this 3-month storing period the solution will eat up much of the oak flavor that I would obviously want to preserve…
Before storing, I will be swapping about 15 gallons worth of wine in and out of the 5-gallon barrel over a period on two months.
The barrel is brand new medium toasted European oak.
Thanks for your thoughts!
David, just storing the barrel filled with water only can soak up a little of the oak flavor of the barrel. The sulfite solution itself does not make this effect any worse. If you were to leave the barrel empty between use, the wood could split and cause the barrel to leak.
What about freezing the barrel without treating it in any other way?
Lynn, I am sorry, we do not have any knowledge about freezing the barrel. We would be fearful that doing so would damage the wood.
I let a barrel sit afew days with water, I smelled the sour smell, so I have cleaned it, and it doesn’t smell, is the barrel good to try and use again?
Douglas, as long as you cleaned and sanitized the barrel it should be just fine.
What about sulfur sticks on emptied cleaned barrels for long storage?
Barry, you can use sulfur to sanitize the barrel but during long term storage, the barrel needs to be full to prevent from leaking in the future. Keeping it full 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.
Hi – what do i do to start using the barrel again? Just rinse well with cool
Stefanie, we would recommend giving it a quick rinse just in case loose wood or something else has floated to the bottom of the barrel.
Hello Ed, just came across your informative site. I have 2 53 gal oak barrels that are full of last years wine, and new my new wine started fermenting today. I want to empty last years wine into carboys. Can I do this and rinse barrels with water till they run clean, then fill with new wine when it’s ready 5 to 7 days later. Or is there a chemical solution I need to add to barrels during this wait period. Thank you
I have a used barrel that I have kept wine in since 2015 (pinot noir). I added 25 pmm potassium metabisulphite when I put it in the barrel, but did not add any more since. When I recently tasted the wine it tasted pretty bad, so I would like to empty the barrel, use the solution in this article to sterilize it, and put fresh wine in later. My question is, will the solution in this article be enough to ensure the barrel is safe for the next batch? I’m told that because I did not keep adding potassiuim metabisulphite over the years that I may have a microbial problem. Thanks for your help. Sarah