Today I started to prep the small (20 liter) Vernou French oak barrel to rack the 2007 Rancho Sarco Cabernet into it. A standard-sized wine barrel is 228 liters. The small barrel has 2x to 2.5x more surface to volume than the standard barrel. Extraction is not a linear process, and so wine in the small barrel should extract oak at a rate that is some fraction of e2 to e2.5 faster than in the standard barrel.
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.
Today I also received three pails of 2007 Napa River Ranch Cabernet for the next WinePod ferment.