Home Barrel Competition – Fortified Wine Judging

Fortified wine barrel cobwebs Liebichwein

The Liebichwein barrel shed has collected many oak casks of various sizes which house liquid gold. Ron and Janet Liebich are proud to continue the great tradition of ageing and blending fortified wines. Only a few decades ago, Muscat and Tawny used to dominate the Barossa wine scene.


Hosting a Home Barrel Competition to celebrate these classic styles and recognises our passionate customer base continues to be a fantastic and engaging experience. The 2019 competition entries included super-syrupy rare tawny, rare sweet Tokay-like flavours and quite young Tawny blends. All the wines (24 in total) gained approval and judges were really impressed with overall quality.

There were so many high quality wines, that 5 Gold Medals were awarded to 4 different home barrel owners who each won a prize of a Rare Museum Fortified and a bottle of The Darkie Shiraz. Congratulations to the 2019 Home Barrel Competition winner Filippo Pizzino from South Australia who entered two outstanding fortifieds that claimed first and second prize.
A local highly experienced judging panel was put together and entrants came from all over Australia. All entrants were happy and proud to receive tasting notes and feedback from Ron about their personalised blends and improving them for the next judging competition. Stay tuned to hear about dates for the 2020 competition.

FAQ’s Home Barrel Seasoning, Blending and Ageing

Blog post refill fortified wine bulk

FAQ’s Home Barrel Seasoning, Blending & Ageing


What is Tawny style Port wine?

Tawny style wine actually starts out like a Ruby or unwooded fortified, but then spends an extended period in oak barrels to soften and round out its character. As wooden staves allow oxygen to enter, this allows some of the wine to evaporate which concentrates flavours in the remaining wine. The slight gap of air at the top of the barrel increases the surface area exposed so the wine is basically slowly oxidising inside the barrel. The wine deepens in colour changing slowly from red-purple eventually to a dark amber or reddish-brown. The longer time in wood, the more complex the wine flavour profile and the smoother the wine becomes.

What do I fill a new barrel with?

Firstly, you need to know if the new keg is made from older red wine barrels or old fortified wood. Both keg types need initial warm to hot water treatment to lessen wood tannin impact on the new wine. The red wine oak barrel should have younger wine such as Ruby Grenache or Ron’s Blend to start with to help soak up the greater wood tannins, known as ‘seasoning’. An oak barrel previously used for fortified wine is best started with Ron’s Blend,as the barrel usually retains some wood tannins which will complement the fruit-foward wine.If wine remains a little woody, keep topping up with youthful Tawny, until the wine seems balanced with fruit and wood characters.

How often should I top up my barrel?

Top barrel according to usage; for infrequent use, it’s best to top with younger wine and if wine is poured frequently, a more mature Tawny such as Keg Blend is recommended. The barrel should not be emptied below 1/3 total volume. ?Note that a new barrel will absorb quite a bit of wine in the beginning.

How often should I taste my barrel wine?

Taste often, especially when using a new barrel as oak flavour can build up quickly in a wine. This will of course vary according to barrel size and cellar conditions (temperature and humidity) and whether the barrel wood was used for red wine or fortified wine. A smaller barrel will need more frequent tasting than a large barrel.

What is the typical lifespan of a barrel?

Well it depends on the purpose of the barrel. If you are looking to impart both flavours from the wood and structure in the form of tannins, a new oak barrel will continue to enhance wine for 4-5 years. After this the barrel becomes neutral and its main purpose becomes a storage vessel. The wine quality can still develop and improve as flavours will concentrate due to evaporation of some water content of the wine and also through exposure to oxygen. Generally, any barrel can last a lifetime and even generations if it never runs dry of good quality wine and is kept away from extreme heat, high humidity and sunlight.

How do I restore an old barrel?

A barrel that has been dry for some time and is loose is best taken to a Cooper to “knock up”, otherwise a handy person can use a hammer and blunt metal object to tighten the rings Then do a water treatment. A?second hand barrel with unknown history, it is wise to empty the barrel and start over again. Rinse out the barrel with hot water (1/10 volume of the barrel) at least twice so the top and bottom interior surfaces are covered and soaked for at least 30 minutes. Then fill with cold water and allow swelling for up to 3 days to check for any slow leaks. If barrel still leaks after 3 days then drain and refill. If any off-odours are present (e.g. vinegar, medicinal) the barrel can be rejuvenated by fermenting sugar and water in it, followed by a hot water rinse before filling with fortified wine. Check with a cooper or keg supplier if in doubt.

I’m moving house. How do I transport my barrel?

A barrel that will be empty for more than a few days needs some preparation to be stored correctly. Empty the wine into well-sealed containers (glass or plastic is fine). A little wine can remain in the bottom to keep the barrel from drying out. Wine barrels can be left empty for a week or so, even in warm temperatures, before drying out completely. To transport, the bung should be securely taped on.

How do I store an empty barrel for long periods?

Empty the wine into well-sealed containers (glass or plastic is fine). Rinse the barrel with hot water then drain it, and allow it to dry completely. To prevent any contamination, a dose of sulfur dioxide (SO2) is needed to protect the barrel. Firstly fill the barrel 2/3 with cold water. A storage solution can be made by adding 1 gram of citric acid and 2 grams of SO2 for very litre of barrel volume. Mix this solution in a separate container with a small quantity of hot water so that everything becomes completely dissolved into the liquid. Add the solution to the barrel, roll the barrel to mix, and top it up the rest of the way and insert the bung. You will need to top up the barrel with more of the holding solution every 4 – 6 weeks, but the barrel can be stored like this indefinitely.

An important safety consideration is that SO2 is fairly safe to handle but you should wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing its fumes when handling it. Note that SO2 can be purchased from any brew shop as Sodium or Potassium Metabisulphite.

My wine has a medicinal off-flavour. How can I fix it?

Commonly medicinal flavour can occur as a combination of wood character and fruit flavours from the wine. It can be blended out by keeping the barrel topped with younger fault-free wine and having a little patience.

My wine has a vinegar-like off-flavour. How can I fix it?

The wine is probably infected with acetobacter (vinegar bacteria) or wild yeasts. The vinegary off-flavours can be blended out by keeping the barrel topped with younger fault-free wine and having a little patience.

My wine has a mouldy/musty off-flavour. How can I fix it?

If a barrel or its contents has or develops a mouldy, mushroom-like taste or odour, then this is quite difficult to fix. It’s best to empty the barrel, sterilize and start again with fresh wine refill. A fermentation of sugar water is a good solution to rejuvenate a barrel with off-flavours.

My wine is thick and syrupy. How can I make it more drinkable?

If wine is thick, viscous and syrupy it is a sign of old age. It will need topping up with fresh young wine such as Ruby Grenache or Ron’s Blend to dilute aged oak flavours. There is no need to wait as adding younger wine will make it more drinkable straight away.

What does turn barrel mean?

This is done when treating a new barrel to season it. By using a few litres of wine you can season more surface area of the barrel. Every few days, turn the barrel a little on its cradle. This can be done over a period of two weeks. Check how the port tastes before deciding to empty the initial wine or keeping it with some woody flavours and topping up with fresh wine. Now for a little patience before having a nip.

Can you blend sweet/dry sherry in a port keg?

Yes, you would add dry sherry to make a drier wine blend. By adding a sweet sherry style (Apera), Semillon,Frontignac or Muscat you would end up with a sweeter blend. Blend according to your preferred taste.

Can you blend fortified wines of different ages in a port keg?

Yes, in fact we recommend it to build complexity of the wine. To help give a keg a dramatic lead on the road to complexity we sell very old wines we call ‘rancio’ premium aged fortifieds. Sold in 100mL wax-sealed bottles in four different varieties; Muscat, Frontignac, Semillon and Tawny (Grenache).

To order bulk or rare old fortified wines, head to our wine shop.


Best Home Barrel Fortified Winners







Announcing the winners of the prestigious “Best Home Barrel Blend” for the 2018 competition. Judging took place in September with three expert judges deliberating samples of Tawny and white fortified wines sent in from our customer base.

Wines were very high standard with very little to pick on in terms of faults. All entries were worthy of medals. The winning wines showed complex flavours, great depth and balance. Entrants gained Ron?s specialist advice on how to improve their blend, which we believe is the most important outcome of this event.

Thanks to everyone who entered and helps support our business. We are only too happy to help you with our complete range of fortifieds to achieve the best results for your barrels.

Congratulations to all winners!

First Place: John Ridenour
Second Place: Martin Kennedy
Third Place: Filippo Pizzino

Ron Liebich’s winemaking comments:

Smaller barrels need to be “worked” to achieve best results. It is ok to have great rancio characters, the high ratio of wood in small barrels to wine means adding younger wine at times, preferably with minimum wood age (such as Ruby Fortified) as a portion of the addition. Youthful fortifieds are perfect for blending out excess wood tannin and maintaining fruit wood balance. The gold winners had the best balance of fruit and oak integration, indicating good management and? patience.

Bulk Fortified Wines for Barrel Ageing

Ron's Blend in the making

Ron’s Blend in the making










It’s the depths of winter. We recently had a sudden hail storm pass through and plenty of rain has saturated Barossa Valley soils.

This time of year is almost busier for us than vintage as the majority of wines sold at cellar door are winter warming fortifieds. We pride ourselves on our?extensive range of bulk fortified wines suitable for drinking now or further ageing in your own barrel. There are six wine styles?sold by the litre for people to perfect their home barrel blends. Many customers return with their own container and we?sell reusable plastic containers (2, 5, 10, 20 Litre).

Youthful fortified wines available by the litre

Youthful fortified wines available by the litre

Ron Liebich continually makes large batches of bulk?blends to keep up with demand by masterfully blending fresh 2015/2016 fortified wines with old museum stocks stored in the depths of the barrel shed. All fortifieds are?produced from estate grown grapes left to fully ripen naturally in the vineyard.??Fortified wines are made from four different grape varieties producing different flavour profiles ranging from aromatic, floral and sweet to spicy and nutty.

There are seven?types of fortified available in bulk that suit barrel ageing; ruby, tawny, and white styles and they all have unique features, colours and flavours.?The wine you choose will depend on your taste preference and whether it is used to season a new keg, as a base wine ?or for topping up a barrel.

Ruby Grenache ? ? ? Unwooded Grenache, perfect rejuvenator for over-oaked and aged barrels

Ron?s Blend? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?Traditional Tawny style aged 2 years, perfect for topping up most barrels

Ron?s / Keg Blend? ?Rich semi-aged tawny, some woody notes?(2/3 Ron?s + 1/3 Keg Blend)

Keg Blend? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?Rich tawny? aged?5 years, developing woody notes, good for a starting barrel

Semillon ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Sweet Sherry (Apera) style aged 2 years with fresh toffee and nutty flavours

Muscat ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ???Youthful sweet style with floral, apricot and citrus flavours (Muscat?Gordo?grapes)

Frontignac? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Youthful sweet style with?floral tropical and musk flavours (Red Frontignac grapes)

We invite you to visit cellar door to taste these wines in addition to more than 10 bottled fortified wines ranging in age from one to thirty years old. A sweet treat indeed!

Milestones for Winemaker Ron Liebich

Ron?s 70th Birthday and 46th Barossa vintage

Ron?s love of wine has kept the Liebich family making wine at Rowland Flat for over three generations. The 2016 vintage will be Ron?s 46th as an artisan producer of richly flavoured wines from grapes nurtured on the property. Ron recently celebrated his 70th birthday and is still just as passionate as when he started his winemaking career after graduating from Roseworthy College in 1969.

Ron?s winemaking story?

Ron was working in the extended family winery, Rovalley Wines, run by his Uncle ?Darkie? Liebich in Rowland Flat. He would make every wine style including sparkling Charmane, Crouchen Riesling, Claret, Sweet Sherry and Cobweb Tawny. When the business was sold in 1985, he was able to purchase a house and farm on Steingarten Road continuing to run the vineyards with his wife Janet. With winemaking in his blood, Ron couldn?t resist making small batches of wine each vintage to mature in barrels, while dreaming of one day starting his own winery. By 1992 this dream became reality when the shed was built to begin Liebichwein Cellar Door Sales.

The 40 acre Liebich property sits off the valley floor on rich biscay soils catching cool gully breezes and escaping any frosts. Initial vineyard plantings included Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. Ron?s love affair with grapes is so great he quickly grew to nurturing 14 wine varieties, as well as growing over 15 types of table grapes for personal use.

Winemaking Philosophy?

Ron is a quietly spoken man and likes to let his wines speak for themselves. He loves the flexibility of being able to make small batches in a wide assortment of wine styles. Ron prefers nature to do most of the work to see how terroir is reflected in the wines. Experimentation is key in recent years as he?s got to know how to deal with growing and vinifying alternative varieties such as Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Mataro and Viognier.

Over the years, Ron has become most well-known for bold fruit-driven red wines and is one of the Barossa Valley?s best producers of fortified wines. Liebichwein cellar door has become popular with fortified lovers of all ages. Ron is also known for offering valuable advice on storing and ageing home barrels. The fortified range draws on museum stocks dating back to the 1940?s and includes blends of various ages made from Muscat, Semillon, Frontignac, Grenache and Mataro (also known as Mourv?dre) grape varieties.

What the Barossa means to Ron?

Ron enjoys continuing the long history of our family making wines in the Barossa Valley. He loves how the Barossa climate is suited to producing a variety of styles which customers really appreciate tasting at our cellar door. His passion for maintaining fortified winemaking traditions is so strong he has run an annual Home Barrel Competition in conjunction with Fortified Fest events at the winery.


Highlights from Ron’s 70th Birthday Party

SBA Ron Muscat barrel

Barrel Care Part 2: How to Maintain a Fortified Keg

Your personal blend of fortified can be a luxurious addition to any home. With a little time and attention, you can meld your special ingredients into a complex mixture that you can sip with satisfaction.

This article follows on from Barrel Care Part 1: How to Start a Fortified Keg and answers common questions we get asked about how to maintain a quality fortified blend throughout the barrel?s life.

What do I fill my barrel with?

Wines that mature in wooden barrels experience what is known as “oxidative” aging. They tend to lose colour quite quickly. They also lose volume to evaporation (commonly called ?the angel’s share?), leaving behind a wine that is slightly more viscous.?The base wine you choose will depend on your taste preference. Fortified wines made from different grape varieties produce different flavour profiles ranging from aromatic, floral and sweet to spicy and nutty.

There are three types of fortified available that suit barrel ageing; ruby, tawny, and white styles and they all have unique features, colours and flavours.


Ruby is brightly coloured red, light brown or purple and is a youthful style, ideal for freshening up over-oaked or excessively aged barrel wine. It can be a recent vintage or a blend of 2-3 vintages. Different grape varieties will yield different flavour profiles.

Grenache ? red berry fruits, sweet spice, confection ? ? ? ? ?

Mataro (Mouv?dre) ? blackcurrant, perfumed, aniseed


Made from red grapes and aged in wooden barrels to give gradual exposure to air and evaporation. Wood exposure imparts mellow golden-brown colours, ?raisin? and”nutty” flavours. Liebichwein offer two popular tawny blends read

y to enjoy now or further age in your own barrel. Tawny?s can be

blended with other vintages and are ready to drink immedi

ately and remain stable after opening.

Ron?s Blend ? average 3 years old, youthful & smooth

Keg Blend ? more wood age up to 5 years, rich & ripe??

White ?Port?

Tawny-style but made from white grapes offer a softer and sweeter finish. This is the wine style that got Ron hooked on fortified winemaking in the 60?s!

Muscat ? orange, musk, floral

Frontignac ? tropical, musk, honey

Semillon ? dates, toffee, nutty

Where do I buy bulk fortified for my keg?

Liebichwein of course! We have built up a strong reputation for selling bulk fortifieds over the last 20 years. Ron is a master fortified blender which is a dying art in the wine trade. We grows grapes especially for fortified production so we let them ripen slowly and make sure they are the last ones picked during vintage when the Baume has reached at least 15?Baume.? A hot Aussie summer really suits fortified winemaking. Each year we make a fresh vintage of different varieties which are eventually blended with small amounts of our old family stocks dating far back into the 1920?s.

Youthful Tawny made from Grenache is the base for Ruby (little or no oak), Ron?s and Keg blend. We also stock Muscat, Frontignac and Semillon as individual varietal wines. We find that an approximate age of 3-5 years makes a suitable starter for a home barrel.

We sell all bulk fortifieds in inert plastic containers in sizes 2L, 5L, 10L and 20L. They cost a few extra dollars and are reusable and recyclable. Customers are welcome to bring their own cleaned containers into cellar door. In the early days of selling in bulk we would get requests to fill all kinds of containers and drink bottles!

Can I keep fortified in plastic containers?

Once you have filled or topped up your keg and you still have left over, there is no drama in leaving the excess in the plastic container until you need it. As the wines are already fortified and ?semi-oxidised? they do not pick up any taints or off-flavours. Just store the container out of direct sunlight and below 30?C.

How do I maintain my barrel?

Remember from Part 1 that wine develops more rapidly in smaller barrels so the first fill should be for a short time (1-4 weeks). Keep in mind that the oak source also has an effect on flavour and will be a lot stronger in a new barrel. You can taste test your personal blend weekly at first, making adjustments to the addition to help achieve desired result. If you notice strong oaky flavours, you can bottle off half of the keg and top it up with young wine (unoaked or lightly oaked is preferable as the barrel does the work). Experimenting with different batches and refilling at different times allows you to blend wine to your liking.


  • Keep your barrel topped up when 1/3 full
  • Be patient – it may take a couple of months before the desired taste is achieved

What about adding a mix of wines or spirits?

Our personal view is never to mix fortified and spirit such as cognac or brandy in a barrel. A good base fortified already contain?spirit, either brandy or neutral grape spirit and anything stronger than these is very difficult to blend out if you change your mind.?We believe that the only things to add, if you wish to blend and tinker, are oak and age. Complexity is added by ageing slowly in oak and adding old and fresh wine.

How much aged wine can be added?

Adding quality aged fortified is a practice that we highly recommend, but the question of how much a

nd when depends greatly on what your blend is like and the barrel type. It?s

not wise to go overboard with aged material, particularly when the barrel port is young (i.e. the initial fill of the barrel). Before adding anything at all, play with blending small amounts in your

?bar/shed/kitchen (20-30mL in 9L is usually plenty). As the barrel port gets

a few years on it, it can then take a greater amount of aged material.

To help give a new keg a dramatic head start on the road to complexity, Liebichwein is able to offer small quantities of very old blending stock. We call them ?rancio? premium aged fortifieds and we bottle them off in 100mL wax-sealed bottles in four different varieties; Muscat, Frontignac, Semillon and Tawny (Grenache). It?s difficult to control the urge to drink such aged and complex wines, but you will be rewarded by throwing it into your personal blend.

More questions??? Contact Ron Liebich for a qualified assessment of your personal blend


151 Steingarten Road,
Rowland Flat,
South Australia 5352


P.O. BOX 916
Rowland Flat SA 5352


Our Cellar Door is open Friday through to Monday 11:00am to 5:00pm.
Other times are welcome by prior appointment.

CLOSED – Christmas Day , Boxing Day, New Year’s Day.

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