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jsbeckton

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Came across this video of a commercial winemaker who doesn’t top up barrels for ~18 months. Says that a good seal can be maintained by keeping the bung at the 2 o’clock position and will result in a vacuum so no need to top up to displace air.

He says that the process of topping up itself causes too much oxidation.

Anyone ever try not topping up for extended periods?

Was thinking that the headspace eliminator by @vacuumpumpman could be used as good insurance. I’ve never used in on a barrel because I thought it would just pull air into the barrel...
 

Johnd

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Came across this video of a commercial winemaker who doesn’t top up barrels for ~18 months. Says that a good seal can be maintained by keeping the bung at the 2 o’clock position and will result in a vacuum so no need to top up to displace air.

He says that the process of topping up itself causes too much oxidation.

Anyone ever try not topping up for extended periods?

Was thinking that the headspace eliminator by @vacuumpumpman could be used as good insurance. I’ve never used in on a barrel because I thought it would just pull air into the barrel...
Just to be clear, Runquist doesn’t rotate their barrels to 2 o’clock, that’s a method from the past with wooden bungs.
Runquist uses silicone bungs and doesn’t crack the seal for 18 - 24 months, at which time their barrels are under vacuum from angels share loss. I suppose that no topping means no sulfite either.
I’d love to try it, just too chicken to risk the only barrel I make each year..........kinda felt like I’ve been pushing the envelope the last few years, topping and sulfiting more like quarterly, I’d be a nervous wreck.
 

Boatboy24

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I have a solid silicone bung on one of my barrels and usually do get 'the suck' when I open it. I've wondered about not topping up, but like @Johnd am too chicken. I can't help but think if liquid is evaporating out, then air must be able to get in, but can't get my head around it.
 

JTS84

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For what it's worth, one of the wine makers I visited in Chile this year has at least two wines that he doesn't top up, both sweet. They are fermented in the barrel, the barrel is opened once after fermentation is complete, and then sealed for 2 years. During that time he loses about 50% volume in the barrel.

The result is an oxidized concentrated sweet wine that was absolutely amazing.

I would imagine that the climate condition (temp and RH) outside the barrel as well as the stave thickness would effect the evaporation rate. In the region I visited, wine is stored in above ground Adobe buildings with no mechanical climate control.

I should have asked more about their Bordeaux blend and process as that is what I normally like, I don't know if he tops those barrels up.
 

crushday

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Ok, the results will take a while to come in but, I’ll try it. I have been topping up monthly, as suggested, and every time I‘m pulling a suction when I remove the silicone bung. Like you, I’ve often wondered if I need to top up so much given the suction.

On May 2nd, I’ll be refilling five 6g barrels. They’ll be scheduled for bottling in November 2020 - six months later. For two of them, I’ll leave as is and only remove the bung to bottle in November. Understandably, the two untouched barrels should have common counterparts as to compare. But, that won’t be a possibility.

So, I’ll check the following items in the comparision:

1. Nose, color and taste (very subjective, I know...)
2. SO2 levels (before and after) - I’ll sulfite as normal when filled
3. Anything else? I’m certain I’m missing some important comparative component...

Here’s the list of wines for the next go around (May 2020):
  1. Old Vine Merlot (MV-Master Sommelier)
  2. Hightail Merlot (RJS)
  3. RQ4 Spanish (RJS)
  4. Chile Merlot (RJS)
  5. Super Tuscan (RJS)
Any recommendations on the two untouched barrels?
 

cmason1957

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Not to rain all over the parade, but to really determine if it made a difference, it would be better to do two of the exact same. This will tell you something, but exactly what will be hard to determine, due to differences inherent in the kits. I would also think there might be a slightly different approach to consider, top up every three months. and that time period may be directly related to the size of the barrel. I would think a 6 gallon barrel and a 66 gallon barrel might need different attention schedules.
 

crushday

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Not to rain all over the parade, but to really determine if it made a difference, it would be better to do two of the exact same.
Craig, I think I can make this work. I do have two 6g Malbec carboys and two 6g Merlot carboys aging right now. Since they’ve only been bulk aging since September 2019, I wasn’t including them as viable candidates for the experiments.

Would that work? Any other suggestions?
 

cmason1957

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It gets you much closer to a real experiement. I still haven't come up with a way to determine the effects of barrel size on your results and my gut says that has some impact, just not sure what. Also, another thing that might be useful to measure (and I have never done this, nor do I know how) dissolved oxygen, some folks say this is an important thing to know.
 

crushday

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For you mathematical engineer types, who can tell me equivalent aging time for six months in a 6g barrel compared to a 60g barrel?

6g = 6 months
12g = 12 months?
24g = 24 months?
48g = 48 months?
60g = 60 months?

That doesn’t seem right...

Who can help?
 

mainshipfred

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For you mathematical engineer types, who can tell me equivalent aging time for six months in a 6g barrel compared to a 60g barrel?

6g = 6 months
12g = 12 months?
24g = 24 months?
48g = 48 months?
60g = 60 months?

That doesn’t seem right...

Who can help?
I think that's going to be a tough one. There was a similar thread some time ago discussing how long different size barrels would give off oak base on the surface to liquid ratio and I don't think we ever came to a conclusion. Perhaps the same might be true for micro-oxygenation but I'm not sure that relates to aging.
 

Boatboy24

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Don't know that you need the same wines. I imagine if you have two wines that are similar in ABV and pH, you could use them. I'd rely heavily on SO2 measurements as my true test in that scenario.
 

stickman

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I was playing around with the concept several years ago and generated this very rough relationship. It is just using an average diameter to get the volume and calculating surface area as a cylinder. So just based on surface to volume ratio, 6 months in a 6gal barrel would be close to 14 months in a 59gal barrel. Obviously it's much more complicated than that, the way the barrel is toasted, depth of toast, how deep the wine soaks into the wood; at the time I was just trying to put a number to what people were talking about. There are plenty of people here that have experience with small barrels and they would have more practical information than the surface to volume concept.



Barrel Volume2.jpg
 

sawineguy

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From my experience topping up is essential in good winemaking. Working in a winery with 110,000 barrels means that barrels are always being topped. As barrels with larger amounts of head space have much higher levels of VA and aldehydes, I have seen this with first hand experience. The greater headspace also leaves room for film forming and other yeasts to contaminate the wine. In smaller barrels it may not be as big of an issue as the head space is much smaller but in hogsheads or puncheons the barrel can be ullaged 20 to 50 L.
 

winemaker81

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@stickman -- thanks for the chart. As you said, there are a lot of variables, but it gives us a reasonable metric to work from.

@JTS84 's anecdote regarding sealing the barrel for 2 years is a good example -- if one wants an oxidized wine. Obviously, the winemaker in that situation knew what he was doing, and got the result he wanted. However, how many barrels of wine were tossed while experimenting? A winery making 110,000 barrels a year can afford to sacrifice 1 or 2 in experiments.

Folks -- it's not being chicken. It's like not sticking your head in a lion's mouth -- you've considered the consequences and can't see a good enough benefit. 😂

@crushday -- please post the result of your experiment when done. I expect a lot of us are interested in your results.
 
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