I read somewhere about ‘the chore of topping off’. I don’t know how often that writer has to top off the barrels, or how many barrels (s)he must top off, but in our small production world I consider it far from a chore. It’s an opportunity to taste your wine and check on the aging progress and have some fun with friends while you are at it.
If you are a wine maker and have barrels of wine, you are likely performing this task. I hope that, like me, you enjoy this chore. No point in doing what you love (like making wine) if it becomes a chore.
There is something romantic about a barrel of wine sitting there, doing it’s thing…concentrating the flavors…evaporating the water, or alcohol in some cases…imparting oak flavors and aromas from the barrel wood to the wine. As the wine evaporates it creates head space, ullage as French call it, at the top of the barrel. Topping off is basically adding wine to the barrel to fill this head space. To keep it full in order to minimize oxygen contact. Un-topped barrels, in most cases, will spoil the wine; turn it into vinegar or sherry. Not what we are looking for.
Topping off is also an opportunity to taste the wine in the barrel. And an opportunity to taste the topping wine, which we draw off from the wine in our stainless steel tanks–just to make sure we are adding good wine.
Yesterday, I topped off our 08 Las Brisas in barrels. Our friend Paul came over to ‘help’ us evaluate the progress. It is always fun to hear other’s opinions and to take the opportunity to open previous years’ samples and compare. Things are looking good.