What is Barrel Audits?

A Barrel Audit is where you apply a stricter-than-normal screening procedure as an extra quality control measure. You can achieve this by testing more barrels if you already track the barrels individually, increasing the number of composite samples, or combining both. The goal is to add more pixels to have a clearer picture of how your barrels are doing and increase the chance of detecting any ongoing issues.

Some good occasions to do this include after harvest or after malolactic fermentation. This article will focus on why you should consider a barrel audit after harvest and a simple rule to have a good one.

Reason 1: Check in with untouched, high-valued barrels 

Over-vintage wines untouched during harvest have different levels of microbial activity. This results in varying levels of free SO2. Some barrels might no longer have the same protection as before harvest. Since these wines typically have more economic value, you will want to know and fix any quality issues before the wine gets spoiled, downgraded, or blended with others.

This issue can happen to any wine type, and the differences can be more significant during the period of minimal homogeneous events (like rack and return). 

Reason 2: Not only wine quality but also the barrel’s health

Many times, the microbial issues are caused by the barrel itself. 

When diagnosed early, problematic barrels can get treatment before being put back in commission instead of silently killing the wine quality. For luxury wines, where barrel cost is usually higher, it pays to put in more care and keep the barrels healthy for longer. 

One way to catch this issue is to know which barrels have an abnormal free SO2 consumption. 

It is easy for these barrels to go unnoticed when you track them through composite sampling. In this case, a barrel audit becomes especially beneficial in detecting the issues. 

If you are using the BarrelWise FS1 to track barrels individually, you can quickly look into the barrel history of free SO2 readings and SO2 additions to speed up the screening process. 

Reason 3: Re-establish the baseline

A sweeping check gives information for winemakers and the lab team to review and adjust the previous baseline, ensuring that the numbers used to define normal and outlier barrels are still a good representation of the wine conditions. Your team will have a fresh starting point to go forward more confidently and flag outlier barrels for further monitoring.

Rule of thumb for a good barrel audit

The rule of thumb is to follow the wine value — sample more in higher tiers with individual barrel tracking if possible. You can read more about some sampling structures based on wine’s value.

And soon, you will find that your current procedure and how you handle your data are critical success factors. Auditing barrels will be a harrowing task if your team takes too many manual steps (labeling, running tests, data entry, data reporting, running re-tests). If the idea of a barrel audit seems impractical for you, it is likely a good time to explore how current technology can help increase your lab capabilities.