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How long will my barrel last? And experience with Re-Coop Barrels and Small French Oak Barrels

2013 May 9

Since I have started making wine I have used American Oak barrels and French Oak Barrels. In the early days I obtained mostly 15 and 30 gallon French Oak barrels. These were, believe it or not, very problematic. They were terrible leakers, especially the 15s. After a few years due to all the problems with them the supplier no longer imported them. When they didn’t leak they were a nice barrel that imparted the kind of oak flavors one would expect.

After that period of time with Small French barrels not available we turned to Gibbs American oak produced barrels. While the coopering was somewhat rough the barrels were tight. For me the bigger problem was the vanilla. At first it was manageable but as some years transpired the new ones had vanilla that was overwhelming. About that time we were introduced to Vadai Hungarian Oak produced barrels. These were generally coopered to a pretty high standard and they didn’t have the vanilla problem. Another nice feature was the price. Equal to the American Oak and much cheaper than French Oak Varieties that were now available.

Admittedly my heart has always rested with the French Oak. To prove this not only to myself but to others tasting my wines I have on repeated occasions taken the same wine and put into French Oak, American Oak, and Hungarian Oak. I have served these wines together and have asked for opinions. Interestingly many tasters think they are not the same wine. And for the most part the greater percentage by far liked the French versions over the others.

Which brings us to the economics of the entire affair. How to afford French Oak. In 2009 I was lucky to stumble upon a More Wine Warehouse Clearance Sale. At that time I purchased 15, and two 30s of the RE-Coop Brand Barrels. I was able to get these at a very good price but I was concerned about using a “used barrel”. A golden rule for me is never purchase used barrel. Now I know that used barrels are bought and sold all the time at the Commercial Level but for Amateurs on the East Coast the only used barrels I ever encountered being sold were Ethyl Acetate Generators. Needless to say the Re-Coops smelled like new. I had heard some criticism of these would be bleeders especially the 15s. I have been using these 3 barrels since 2010. They have bled and stained but they have produced award winning wine and as far as I am concerned did just as good a job as a new barrel. In November of 2012 when re-filling them I opted to use some Barrel Mill French Oak Medium Plus Spirals. Barrel tasting these wines indicate the spirals have restored some of the oak mostly likely would be missed if the barrel was left to its own devices.

In 2009 we made the first vintage of the Beckstoffer George the Third Cabernet Sauvignon. With all the excitement of actually getting these grapes it was decided early on this wine was destined for a brand new World Cooperage 59 gallon French Oak Barrel. And it would stay in that barrel for two years. It was worth every penny but lingering in the back of my mind was my curiosity to try a Re-Coop 59. So I bugged Frank Musto to bring some in from Sabastopol. He did and we took two of them. We put them into service and we can slay all the myths about Re-Coops. These barrels are as tight as any new one, they do not bleed at all and they are producing wine at half the price of a new French Oak Barrel. Since then we have purchased another two. Both were rehydrated and were holding water within 1 hour. So we can dispel that rumor as well.

As the barrels get older we will resort to using some adjunct oak but we expect to get quite a few wines in to these Re-Coops. For the 30 and 15 gallon sizes lucky for all of us now M&M Grape Co. carries a very reasonable French Oak line of Barrels that are coopered like works of art. For our small size barrels this is where we go. Many in the club are using them and the results so far are outstanding.

59 Re-Coop Tight as a crabs ass

59 Re-Coop Tight as a crabs ass

French Oak Barrels sold by M&M Grape Company this one a 27 gallon

French Oak Barrels sold by M&M Grape Company this one a 27 gallon

8 hoops on both the 27 gallon and the 13.8 version  First wine in this one for 1 week.  Can you guess the varietal from the stain at the bung hole????

8 hoops on both the 27 gallon and the 13.8 version First wine in this one for 1 week. Can you guess the varietal from the stain at the bung hole????

43 Responses leave one →
  1. Zac Brown permalink
    May 9, 2013

    I’ve used recoops over the years 15 and 30s.
    Never had a leaker and their unique process works .
    I wouldn’t use any reclaimed barrels not using their process.
    Very happy to endorse them

    If you want a good price on new French oak , in small or large barrels try radoux
    Their small French oak barrels are not much more than the small format recoops.

  2. crazy run ranch permalink
    May 9, 2013

    In american oak, I prefer the 3 year air dried wood, not sure if you can find that in small formats but its nice in standard sizes. I prefer french oak as well and don’t use that much new oak so its not cost prohibitive. Soon I’m going to move some Grenache into 500L puncheons and work those barrels into the mix. As for age, my oldest barrel in use in an 2004, 122L Mendocino Cooperage american oak. Its outlived the cooperage which closed years ago. Its still tight and sweet smelling and I’ll use it as long as it is. Small neutrals are coveted in my cellar.

  3. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    May 9, 2013

    2004! There is a lesson here for Club Members. I posted some pictures in the post of the barrels I was talking about.

  4. Zac Brown permalink
    May 9, 2013

    I’ve got a 15 gallon recoop and a 100 litre hungarian from 2004 , still in service.
    I like to do mlf on my Pinot noir in them.

    Right now they have a blend of Italian varietals in them.

    But for my 2013 wines I’m buying two 60s .
    I’m thinking a French recoop and a Hungarian .

    I know Steve isn’t a fan of Hungarian but i love it.

  5. glenn permalink
    May 10, 2013

    I currently keep 3 small barrels full. my first is a 15G american from barrel mill, second a 40L vadai and the 3rd is a 50L vadai. I am looking to PU a 27G french from Frank this year to add the french oak into the rotation and increase my production.

  6. carmine Frattaroli permalink
    May 10, 2013

    I have 1- 2012 27 gallon Tonellerie Sauternes barell
    1- 2013 27 gallon- Tonellerie Sauternes barell
    1- 2010 27 gallon- Tonellerie Sauternes barell
    All French medium toaste plus I have a 32 gallon Re-coop 2008 French toaste which has gone neutrel. Yes they are all full with wine. I need to do some bottling.I’m not even going to mention all the barels that my brothers have.

  7. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    May 10, 2013

    Get busy Carmine!!!! The lesson here, that I need reinforcement with is, good barrels are kept a lot longer than I have in the past. But a Big But… after 4 years we were getting the beginnings of very mild Brett. Those were the days of copious amounts of DAP in the ferments. So we kinda got in the habit of ditching them after 4 years. That problem has been solved but old cellar habits die hard. I keep hearing the words of CRR, ” Small neutrals are coveted in my cellar.”

    As far as Hungarian, my take and many responses are the wines from them are spicy compared to the same wine in a French. But some have also said on different occasions that there was a
    Bar BQ flavor imparted to the wine. These comments were reserved for first wines in these barrels.

  8. D&S permalink
    May 13, 2013

    I still have one 2005 French Oak (56L) barrel in service. I, too, plan to use it as long as it’s tight and sweet.

  9. crazy run ranch permalink
    May 13, 2013

    The reason I said “coveted” is that if I want a 30g barrel, I have to buy new. For 225L barrels, I can buy new, once filled, 2 year old, or neutral from reliable sources. New small barrels are relatively expensive on a per gallon basis and the oak management is tough. They pump out oak so much faster you have to keep an eye on them.
    As far as Hungarian, I should say my opinion of them is only off of one impression. It was from a good cooper so I expected more. But oak contribution is certainly personal taste and I haven’t wanted to experiment with different oak again.

  10. Dan Lodico permalink
    May 14, 2013

    As the clear novice here I’ll add my 2 cents.
    My first two barrels were the 10 gallon Vadai Hungarians. They are 18 months and 15 months old.
    I broke them in with some Kit Wines (oh, oh…I said it), and in my opinion, they made the kit wines better, but as far as the oak, it tastes a bit like pencil shavings. That’s a bit harsh of a description, but the hint of it is there.

    I just pulled, today in fact, the Le Marche Sangiovese and I don’t get the pencil shaving taste at all. This is the 4th wine for this barrel, and it was in for about 7 months (11 months to 18 months in the barrel’s life)..

    I am looking forward to both Hungarian’s becoming neutral so I can use french oak spirals in the future, if I want.

    BTW, they never leaked or bled a drop.

    I have put two new 13 (closer to 15) gallon French Oak barrels (the ones Gene refers to from M&M).. first wines have been in about a month and a half. They did take longer to stop leaking, but are working now. Too soon to comment on taste.

  11. Rocco permalink
    May 17, 2013

    Bottled 30 gallons of 2011 today and I hate to say it but getting rid of my 2005 re-generated barrel.New one taken over.This barrel has been my holding vessel,after oaking my wines in newer barrels.Still nothing wrong with this barrel,just time to move on.So yes,when well taken care of they can last a long time.Or as long as you would like.

  12. bzac permalink
    May 19, 2013

    one thing I do with my older barrels is I do a percarbonate soak followed by a citric acid and sulfite soak every other batch.

    this cleans up the barrel and lowers its microbial load , lessening the risk .
    I then use oak segments or cubes to dial in the flavours , sometimes using several different oaks and toasts.

    I also use my older barrels to mlf my pinot noir in.
    I use fresh mlb innoculant every time , my thinking is I want the dominant microbs to be friendly ones.

  13. rsg permalink
    May 28, 2013

    Good article Gene!

    I’d have to agree that both recoops and long barrel life are relevant in the cellar. Having never purchased a barrel I can’t compare profiles. I cooper all my own from scratch using local oak (Ontario, Canada). I like the profile and don’t think I have the vanillin issues like some of the southern US woods used buy A&K or Gibbs. I make 125L barrels and recoop them once then toss them usually saving my hoops for the next one as it’s easier than always making new ones. A barrels life usually consists of 4 years in my cellar. It’s almost time to Cooper another……. 🙂

  14. Dan Lodico permalink
    May 28, 2013

    ON the subject of barrels: My two 40L Hungarians are empty of wine, and awaiting their next batches. I have filled them with water, and some SO2, while they wait.

    Should I put anything else in there, like maybe some citric acid? They are probably going to be empty of wine no more than 60 days.

  15. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    May 28, 2013

    Dan, I use this chart

    BARREL SIZE SULFITE CITRIC ACID 1 cup equal 16 tablespoons
    50 gallons 1 1/2 cups 1 cup
    40 gallons 1 cup 3/4 cup
    25 gallons 3/4 cup 1/2 cup
    20 gallons 2/3 cup 1/3 cup
    15 gallons 1/2 cup 5 tablespoons
    10 gallons 1/3 cup 3 tablespoons

  16. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    May 28, 2013

    RSG Send us some pictures of your Cooperage Operation. Really Cool!

  17. RSG permalink
    May 28, 2013

    Hers’ some pics from a while back (pretty much the same as has been pinned in the Barrel forum of Winepress). I haven’t taken any in a long time…..the novelty of the process has long worn off…LOL


  18. Dan Lodico permalink
    May 28, 2013

    thanks, Gene

  19. Ken Dingley permalink
    January 3, 2015

    I wasn’t really sure where to post this but found this topic relevant. I’ve done several searches and didn’t find a better place for it. So here goes…

    I’m looking for some advice for a newbie. I’ve got my first wine from grapes sitting in carboys now – 12+ gallons of Merlot. My wife, very thoughtfully, gave me a $300 gift certificate to M&M and my In-Laws gave me $200 more in cash for Christmas. So I’m flush with some winemaking money… Part of me wants to get myself a barrel to give my Merlot the best chance of being all it can be. But I’ve learned from you guys that there’s a lot more to owning a barrel than one thinks so I want to be sure and buy wisely – if at all. So here are some thoughts I’ve had…

    1. I could buy a 40L/11G barrel to host the Merlot, leaving me some top up wine, but it won’t be in there long due to the barrel being new and I don’t have anything else to put in afterward.

    2. I could buy a 23L/6G barrel and put the Merlot through it in two batches. This would give me some laking flexibility in case I over oak the first 6 gallons, I could adjust on the second 6 gallons and blend back together again. Second benefit would be that I can keep the barrel full longer.

    3. I could just skip the barrel and go to oak spirals in the carboys…

    The above could all be dependent on a few questions though:

    I’ve read, though I can’t remember where, that it’s a good idea to barrel ferment a chardonnay in a new barrel before using for oak aging. Is this true? If so, can I ferment a kit wine in there? Is there any reason not to put kit wine in a barrel that will see wine from grapes whether fermenting or not? Can’t imagine why not but…

    Right now I’m leaning toward buying the 23L/6G barrel (probably a Vadai barrel) and putting the Merlot through it in 2 batches. Doing a barrel ferment first will depend on how this discussion and advice from you guys, along with what to put in the barrel after the second Merlot. By that time I may be ready for the South American grape season which would be a great way to keep wine in it.

    I’ve looked for the often referred to barrel program instructions that Zac has been credited with but I must suck at using the search functions on WinePress and here, because I’ve come up empty. Could someone give me a link to help me out here please?

    I’m looking forward to the angles you guys come up with.


  20. January 4, 2015

    I am traveling so at this time I cannot answer you in detail . I will as soon as I can

  21. bzac permalink
    January 4, 2015

    You’ve got a few options and have identified the key points , good start .

    My first question would be what are your plans for winemaking next fall?

    You could delay filling the barrel to line up next falls wine so that it’s ready to go in when the Merlot is ready to come out .

    What size barrel you need depends on how much you want to make next fall .

    For the sake of illustration , let’s say you decide to make 200 lbs of two varietals next fall .

    You could get a 40 litre barrel , put your Merlot in it around the time your grapes arrive , and pull it out around the time mlf is done on your fall wines and then put the first of your fall wines in it . Leave that in it until June , put your next wine in it until the following years wine is ready to go in . At that point you might be ready to age for a year in it . And could go back to 200 lbs a year .

    It is possible to barrel ferment a kit or juice pail Chardonnay to break in a barrel that hasn’t been used before , this will give you a bit longer ageing periods for subsequent batches .

  22. Dan Lodico permalink
    January 5, 2015

    I started my barreling by running some kit wines through them (2 40L Vadais), so they had some of the “new” out of them before putting my “real” wine in them.

    Although it resulted in the best kit wines I ever made, I wound up with a lot of kit wine, that in comparison to my “real” wine, is not that enjoyable, although family and friends don’t seem to mind.

    If I had it to do over again, I would employ Zac’s second option, of waiting until I had enough “real” wine to run through them.

  23. Dan Lodico permalink
    January 5, 2015

    Zac, reading up the page of comments you wrote the following, “one thing I do with my older barrels is I do a percarbonate soak followed by a citric acid and sulfite soak every other batch.”

    At what age do you consider the barrel to be old enough to start doing this?

  24. bzac permalink
    January 5, 2015

    After the barrel has been neutral for a while ,

    With my older barrels , when they hit about 4 years old , I started doing percarbonate soaks , citric , every other batch .

    This keeps them clean and checks microbial loads .

  25. Ken Dingley permalink
    January 5, 2015

    Thanks guys. I think 40L is as much as I can handle right now. And I do realize that once the barrel is bought it locks me into batch sizes in the future, which is why I’m asking the questions now.

    Zac provides a nice argument for 40L and doing two batches of 200lbs next year, cause more wine can’t be a bad thing right… And Dan, I like how you commented on how you’d do it differently if you had a do-over. This gives me something to chew on.

    I hadn’t planned an increase over the 216lbs I did this past Fall. Mostly because I don’t really know the result yet. I’m not exactly impressed with the wine I’ve created but don’t have much to compare it to either. I know it’s still early days yet, and I think it has improved slightly from where it was 6 weeks ago.

    This is kind of the reason I want to try the barrel – to experience first hand the difference the oak tannins and flavors can make. A short stay in the barrel won’t do much for the micro-oxygenation properties but that will come on subsequent batches. I could even do 250lb batches and keep the extra un-oaked for comparison purposes.

    So now you’ve got me leaning to the 40L barrel… And I’ve got an itch to make more wine. I note nobody seems that interested in the South American season. Any specific reason?

  26. Dan Lodico permalink
    January 5, 2015

    I’ve had two (out of two) bad experiences with Chilean. Also, I found out, that by the time the stuff actually showed up, it was late enough into Spring that I would rather be out doing my warm weather fun stuff, than attending to the wine.

    For what it costs to get the Chilean to my doorstep, I can get a better product from the West Coast, and deal with it all in the Fall, when I’m ready.

    The wine itself, both times, was a stink bomb. Once might have been my fault, but the second time it wasn’t my fault. Everyone struggled with it.

  27. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    January 6, 2015

    Well here is how it works out for me now that we have a Cooper on Long Island. Take new barrel but in a wine varietal that likes big oak. After using barrel for two years with varietals like that the third year is used for a varietal that needs less oak. ( Napa Gamay is an example) Then have the barrel recooped and start the process all over again. No washing, No percarbonate! , No Oak Additives which are never the same as barrel oak anyway. That’s it. Anyone wanting previously recooped 3 years old barrels are welcome to them. Look at it this way. A 15 gallon barrel costs about 3 hundred dollars and 100 dollars for the recoop. So you have 400 dollars invested for 6 years of use. That works to 66 dollars a year. So now add up all the barrel additives and shipping costs from MoreWine and tell me how your number works out for 6 years.

  28. bzac permalink
    January 6, 2015

    It might be worth trying aging in some neutral oak rather than rushing straight to recooping or oak cubes and stave segments (I am a big fan of stavin segments in neutral oak)

    I’ve got all my small oak barrels , which are neutral ageing my 2013 s , I wanted a counter to my two brand new 225 litre Hungarian oak barrels .

    After ten months , I’m loving the zero new oak wines . Don’t get me wrong the new oak wines are great but I’m digging the neutral oak wines , no oak to hide behind . So your winemaking chops better be upto it . Neutral oak , not to be confused with carboy wine .

  29. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    January 6, 2015

    As usual I was poking a bit. I had for the Napa Gamay 2 neutral barrels which I bottled last spring. I did use some spirals but not the full dose. You are correct you better have a darn good wine if you are not using oak. Just the opposite with the infamous Chilean Malbec. Tastes ok but the nose not so much. So you have two courses of action. Nose Clips or Lots of American Oak. It will be a nice wine when it is done but you better like the nose of vanilla.

  30. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    January 6, 2015

    Zac on another topic. Do you think TanCor Grand Cru will give me some astringency without the perception of sweetness?

  31. bzac permalink
    January 6, 2015

    A light dose should .

    I find it sweetens out when used in higher amounts durring ageing .

    When in doubt , bench trial.

  32. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    January 6, 2015

    I am trying to add some astringency to fool the pallet on the sweetness issue for the GSM. Years ago there was a product called Xpress. It was pure fresh liquid grape tannin. Like ink but not X berry color, while it did improve color it was designed as a tannin additive. It is no longer made as the skins used to make it had to come from a certain kind of press. With that type not used very much the producer could no longer make the product. Maybe there is an alternative product like that I do not know. But it saved many Central Valley Wines giving them the body they lacked and mouth feel. You had to be very careful as to how much you used or the wine would really get astringent. I wish I had some for this GSM. Maybe a grape tannin extract is better than a wood based one.

  33. bzac permalink
    January 6, 2015

    Uvatan soft by scott labs is 100% grape skin cellaring tannin .

    Might be worth a try

  34. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    January 7, 2015

    I will give them a call and see what they say.

  35. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    January 9, 2015

    I am a bit confused. I made a comment about this but it went unnoticed. Is Vadai Barrels no longer in production? Are they now Zemplen Barrels as shown on facebook. I met Sandor at a winery show a few years back. A picture of us is here on this blog. Yet there are pictures on Face book posted just last week and people are wishing him and Anna a Happy New Year. Besides it seems the Vadai Website doesn’t seem to work. The same pictures were also posted in 2009. What gives?

  36. bzac permalink
    January 9, 2015

    I believe vadai , zemplen and barrel imports barrels are all produced by J&k cooperage in Hungary .
    So still in productions.
    And Vadais website is up now .

    Dont know about the rest .

  37. Ken Dingley permalink
    January 9, 2015

    I just exchanged some emails with the people at Vadai earlier this week so it seems all is well at Vadai. They gave me a quote on a new 40 litre barrel.

  38. crazy run ranch permalink
    January 9, 2015

    I’m glad you were joking about recooping a 3 year old Gene. To me, 2-4 years is the sweet spot. I just finished tasting through 5 barrels of 2013 Zin where 1 was new. It was awful, nothing but oak. Blended out to just 20% new, it is very nice. To Zac’s point, too much oak hides the nuances of the wine. I’m sticking to a 100% neutral regime on my Grenache and Mourvedre wines. To me, micro-ox is far more important to the function of the barrel than its oak flavoring.

  39. Paul Stadler permalink
    February 10, 2016

    I have used re-cooped French oak for years and they have done very well. I haven’t had leakers but some evaporate more than other 🙁 Still its worth the flavor. Just used Hungarian oak for the first time. I’m not a fan 🙁 Ii probably get 4-5 “batches” out of the re-coops then the flavor fades and I DX them.

    The first barrel I had i put a layer of mildew guard on it. Didn’t seem to leak or eval much. Wonder if it was actual or imagined .. hmmm.

  40. Paul Stadler permalink
    February 10, 2016

    To crazy run ranch.
    If you take your wine out of the barrels early you won’t get as much oak flavor. Depending on the size of the barrel 6-12 months for new. Longer for previously used barrels. its important to taste the wine periodically.

  41. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    February 10, 2016

    Welcome to the Forum. Use the same email address and you will not need your comments to be moderated.
    Thanks Gene

  42. Kudzai permalink
    July 17, 2017

    i have a question. How long can you use The French Oak Barrels?. In both Fermentation and Maturation.

  43. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    August 24, 2017

    It really is up to the winemaker. Barrel washing and storage plays in white fermentation. Reds just keeping them full at all times seems the best method for keeping them healthy.

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