|A mid-19th century American wine cask|
These should be made of well-seasoned white oak staves, and can, of course, be of various sizes to meet the wants of the vintner. The best and most convenient size for cellar use I have found to be about 500 gallons. These are sufficiently large to develop the wine fully, and yet can be filled quick enough to not interrupt fermentation. Of course, the vintner must have some of all sizes, even down to the five-gallon keg; but for keeping wine, a cask of 500 gallons takes less room comparatively, and the wine will attain a higher degree of perfection than in smaller casks. The staves to make such a cask should be about 5 feet long, and 1½ to 2 inches thick, and be the very best wood to be had.
The cask will, when ready, be about as high as it is long, should be carefully worked and planed inside, to facilitate washing and have a so-called door on one end, 12 inches wide and 18 inches high, which is fastened by means of an iron bolt and screw, and a strong bar of wood. This is to facilitate cleaning; when a cask is empty, the door is taken out, and a man slips into the cask with a broom and brush, and carefully washes off all remnants of lees, etc., which, as the lees of the wine are very slimy and tenacious, cannot be removed by merely pouring in water and shaking it about. It is also much more convenient to let these large casks remain in their places, than to move them about. The casks are bound with strong iron hoops.
To prepare the new casks, and also the vats, etc., for the reception of the must, they should be either filled with pure water, and allowed to soak for several days, to draw out the tannin; then emptied, scalded with hot water, and afterwards steamed with, say two or three gallons of boiling wine; or they can be made "wine-green," by putting in about half a bushel of unslaked lime, and pouring in about the same quantity of hot water. After the lime has fallen apart, add about two quarts of water to each pound of lime, put in the bung, and turn the cask about; leaving it lie sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, so that the lime will come in contact with every part of the cask. Then pour out the lime-water; wash once or twice with warm water, and rinse with a decoction of vine leaves, or with warm wine. Then rinse once more with cold water, and it will be fully prepared to receive the must. This is also to be observed with old casks, which have become, by neglect or otherwise, mouldy, or have a peculiar tang.
The casks are then filled with the must; either completely, if it is intended that the must should ferment above, as it is called, or under, when the cask is not completely filled, so that the husks, which the must will throw up, will remain in the cask. Both methods have their advantages, but I prefer the former, with a very simple contrivance, to exclude the air, and also prevent waste. This is a siphon or tin tube, bent in the form of a double elbow, of which one end fits tightly in the bung hole, and the other empties into a dish of water, to be set on one end of the cask, through which the gas escapes.