Ask Wine Wizard

Can I Salvage an Oak Barrel if I Burned a Sulfur Stick While the Barrel Was Wet?


Richard Steinberg — Los Altos, California asks,

In a recent issue of WineMaker, I read with some alarm your caution against burning sulfur sticks in a wet barrel. Not only did I make that error (in three beautiful, one-year-old recoopered French oak barrels), I also accidentally dropped one of the burning sticks into one of the damp barrels and heard it fizzle and sizzle. I managed to fish out that charred sulfur stick, but now what? If we assume that all this resulted in at least some sulfurous acid in the three barrels, is there any way to reverse the error and save the barrels?

I think your barrels should be salvageable. Since you fished out the sulfur stick and are aware that you might have some residual sulfurous acid hanging about, you’ve already won half the battle; you know you need to do something to neutralize any acid in there. I would imagine you could get rid of most remaining sulfurous acid in your barrels by doing the following: 1. Put on protective goggles (as we all should when dealing with sanitizing solutions or chemicals). 2. Rinse a barrel well with water (warm or cold is OK, hot not needed) and drain the water out the bung hole. If your barrel still has pieces of the sulfur sticks or any other kind of solid residue inside the barrel you can see, you need to get it out. One of my favorite tricks is to feed a length of stainless steel chain (about 2 feet/60 cm long) into the barrel, add about 2 gallons (~8 L) of warm water, bung the barrel up and rock back and forth vigorously to help scour the sides. If
Response by Alison Crowe.