Not topping off barrel?

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baron4406

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I have a favorite local winery, the owner and I love to "talk shop". He kept teasing me about a awesome new wine and finally a few weeks ago he dropped it- its a Merlot that spent 30 months in a barrel. The wine is fantastic, the first Merlot that I actually was blown away by. One strange thing he mentioned, he said he never topped off the barrel-just let it naturally concentrate without "diluting it down". I can't argue with the results, but is he pulling my leg?
 

Johnd

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I have a favorite local winery, the owner and I love to "talk shop". He kept teasing me about a awesome new wine and finally a few weeks ago he dropped it- its a Merlot that spent 30 months in a barrel. The wine is fantastic, the first Merlot that I actually was blown away by. One strange thing he mentioned, he said he never topped off the barrel-just let it naturally concentrate without "diluting it down". I can't argue with the results, but is he pulling my leg?

I know my 30 gallon barrel needs roughly a half bottle per month, 6 bottles per year, which would equate to nearly a case and a half in 30 months. That amount of headspace would be a huge risk for both oxidation and contamination, but I can’t say he’s pulling your leg. Maybe he adds a lot of sulfite. Other than purposely oxidized wines, like tawny ports and sherry, I’ve never heard of that practice, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t done.....
 

Johnd

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If you don't open the bung, are you at risk of oxidation, assuming your barrel pulls a vacuum?

Say you have a 3.5 pH wine, put 150ppm SO2 in it, keep it at 55-65 degrees and see you in 30 months?

Perhaps risky, but seems plausible.

Don’t really know, mine are at 55 F and 70 % RH year round, and get topped / sulfited regularly. But can it really hold a vacuum? Isn’t one of the biggest benefits the slow oxidation / allowing oxygen in through the wood? Seems like the air goes in as the vacuum is created when evaporation takes place, even with an airtight bung. Just thinking out loud.....
 

ibglowin

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He didn't come out and say it but perhaps he was purging the headspace with inert gas each week to protect the wine. 99.99% sure if you left a wine without topping in a barrel you would have undrinkable wine after 30 months without some intervention.
 

stickman

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I have to say it would make me nervous to not top the barrel, but I have read about the practice. I think this is done with older barrels, or during the second year of aging, as new wood requires a lot of wine during the first 6 months or so. The claim is that after the ML racking and a few months of topping, the barrel is rolled so that the bung is at the 2 o'clock position, and no topping after that. There may be the occasional racking and topping, but the bung is again rolled, this time to the 10 o'clock position; this ensures all staves remain soaked. You need a good bung hammered home to do this with confidence.
 

Slappy

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I work with a guy who has a small commercial winery as a hobby. He told me a while back about a barrel of shiraz that was forgotten for a couple of years and the wine was still good. He did say it was a monster at 17% though so that may have helped...
 

JohnT

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If you have 2 liters of headspace over 225 liter of volume, that is only 0.88 percent headspace. That is not much especially if the wine is balanced (pH over ppm so2) and tannic (as barrel aged wine tends to be).

This added head space will soften out the tannins while not topping off keeps the wine concentrated.

I have had great results by keeping some headspace.
 
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