Oak Barrel Care
Tightening your barrel:
It is very important to make sure your barrel is tight (i.e. has no leaks). Fill the barrel with cool water and allow it to soak until the wood swells tight. Change the water every three days to prevent contamination of the barrel. When water no longer seeps out between the staves, or at either end, the barrel is completely tight. This can take two weeks or more.
Conditioning your barrel:
Condition your barrel after you are sure it is tight. Soak the barrel in very hot water for about a week, changing the water every two days. Each time you change the water, you should check to see how much of the raw oak flavor has been extracted: taste the water and look at its color. When there is little oak flavor and the color is very pale, the barrel is ready for soaking with an acidic sanitizing solution.
Sanitizing your barrel:
Use this procedure to sanitize your barrel before filling it with wine:
Fill barrel half-way with cold water. Add 2.5 grams of sodium metabisulphite for every litre of the barrels total volume (0.4 oz./Imp. gal.). Add 1.25 grams of citric acid for every litre of the barrels total volume (0.2 oz./Imp. gal). Bung the barrel. Roll it to mix in the metabisulphite and citric acid. Remove bung and finish filling barrel with cold water. Replace bung and let full barrel stand 48 hours. Drain barrel. Rinse several times with cold water. Shaved or rebuilt barrels
Shaved or rebuilt barrels have the first 6 mm of wood shaved off their interior surface. This means the barrel must be treated as if it were new. Follow the tightening, conditioning, and sanitizing instructions, above.
The safest way to store a barrel is to keep it full of wine at all times. Although this seems like a simple requirement, it may not always be easy to accomplish.
Occasionally barrels go sour, even if you are careful about sanitation. Never refill a barrel that has contained spoiled wine the new wine will also go bad. It is difficult to rescue a contaminated barrel, although sometimes it can be done.