Ask Wine Wizard

Oak Barrel Seepage

TroubleShooting

Eric Weinstein — Maine asks,
Q

I recently purchased a new 32-gallon (121-L) wine barrel made of Hungarian oak from the Zemplen forest. I should let you know that I have been making wine, one of which won a Silver Medal in the WineMaker Amateur Wine Competition, for over 30 years. I have used French and American Oak before but this is the first time for Hungarian. I treated the barrel properly as per instruction, and then put my wine in it. To my surprise, the wine started to seep, not from between the staves or the barrel heads but through the staves themselves. The seepage was fairly wide spread affecting about half of the belly. I was told that wood from the Zemplen forest was so dense that in fact you need to keep wine in barrel for 14 months or so. I seem to have halted the seepage by using wax but now I am wondering about the state of my wine. Is there anything I should be worried about or any additional measures I should take to protect the wine? Have you heard of this happening before?

A
I’ve certainly had the odd leaker (or three) but I’ve never experienced trans-stave leakage of the scale that you describe. Before I delve any deeper, I first of all would like to say that your situation is unusual and one that warrants an immediate customer service call (read: complaint) to your barrel supplier. It is normal for barrels to need a little soaking up with water before they can be filled with wine. Sometimes we even need to go beyond the “instructions” and use hot water on the barrel head or something like that to properly swell up a barrel. Your type and scale of leakage, however, goes far beyond what is normal and in fact travels headlong into “product defect” category. Any self-respecting barrel supplier should show you the proper concern and offer to exchange your product. Let me describe why I believe your situation goes quite beyond the expected “new barrel” seeps and leaks most of us are used to. Oak barrels (and barrels made of other woods, sometimes acacia wood or even cherry wood) are really structurally