Barrel Maintenance - Preparing your Barrel for First Time Use
Notes from the winemaker: Whatever the exact rate difference, compared to a standard 228L barrel the small 20L barrel can quickly over-oak a wine well before the benefits of the slow and gentle oxidation the barrel environment imparts to the wine are realized. For this reason it is important to treat a new small barrel a little more harshly than I would do a standard barrel. My ordinary new barrel soak-up regime for standard barrels is to give them a 3 minute wash with warm water through a high-pressure cleaning robot, followed by a 45 second rinse with ozone-saturated water, and then to let them sit bung in and upright overnight. With well-made barrels this is enough to ensure they are wine-tight 99% of the time or more.
With this small barrel I went quite a bit farther. After a quick rinse I filled the barrel with hot (150° F) water and let it sit overnight. I plan to drain it tomorrow and refill it at least twice more before moving wine into it. I put about 1.5 pounds of kosher salt in the barrel and refilled it with 150° F water for the second soak. The salt treatment tightens the grain and is very effective at killing any undesirable organisms that may be present (although there is little chance any are, my personal proclivity is to be proactively cautious). This salt water soak lasted eight hours. I drained the barrel again this time the water was pale brown, like weak tea and refilled it with hot water for overnight. When I drained the barrel this morning the water was a medium-brown. I filled it for a fourth and final soak.