Topping up barrels is a year-round necessity, if somewhat mind numbing. I suppose it’s a great opportunity to run through the entire play list on your ipod or hear your co-worker’s life story…
The great thing about barrels is that they let the wine evaporate, which causes the evolution we treasure.
The bad thing about barrels is they let the wine evaporate, which imperils it. Depending on the humidity in the cellar, up to 5% of the wine can be lost to evaporation each year – read $$$$ evaporating, literally, in front of your eyes. Kind of the cellar equivalent of cluster thinning. The loss is called the “angel’s share”.
Any head space, at the top of the barrel, exposes the wine to bacteria, which can make it smell and taste like “Martha’s Sox” instead of “Martha’s Vineyard”. Soooo sad. And quite unneccessary.
What to do? Add more wine. In fact, let a little wine spill over the top to make sure the barrel is absolutely full. In many cases, one barrel is “cannibalized” to top up the rest. The left-over wine goes into a demi-john for next time (topped up with inert gas).
How often? A good, but controversial, question. Geoff Gorsuch, our Winemaker, tops up each of our approximately 220 barrels at least once a month, depending on the time of year and the barrel. For instance, new barrels can be very thirsty, so they may require more frequent topping at first.
It’s a thankless job, kind of like unloading the dishwasher, but there you have it. Stay tuned for the next spell-binding cellar activity! Cheers!