And To Top It All Off…


Every four weeks we do what is called topping in the winery.  Wine evaporates through the pores in the barrel, what we call topping loss or what others, particularly those that age spirits, refer to as the “angels’ share”.  Now, we don’t begrudge the angels their share (it’s good to have happy angels) but we do try to minimize this loss by keeping the barrels in a high humidity environment (ideally 70%)  as low humidity accelerates this loss.  For those of us who do not have the luxury of a wine cave, which has a natural high humidity, there are humidifiers that micronize water droplets and spray them across the winery, slowly building up the humidity.  However, after four weeks, enough wine has evaporated to create problems aside from the obvious one that if left to it’s own devices, you would have little wine left by the time it’s ready to bottle.


As part of our quality control measures, when we top the barrel (fill it to the brim) we also adjust the free sulfur dioxide (FSO2) levels- FSO2 acts as an anti-microbial and anti-oxidizing agent.   When there is too much headspace (or ullage if you want a fancy wine term for it) or the FSO2 levels are off you have a much greater chance of bad things happening to your wine:  you could get film yeast development, aldehyde increase-which is not good unless you are making a sherry, or an increase in volatile acidity (VA) which gives the wine the dreaded vinegar aroma.  The entire process- sampling the wine, testing, adding FSO2 when needed and finally the topping- takes us an entire week.  We just finished the topping for January last week- hopefully, the angels enjoyed their share and will send us some rain as a thank-you!



About dwdirwin

Wife of Naggiar Vineyards winemaker Derek Irwin, mother to 4 active kids and one dog and newbie blogger!
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4 Responses to And To Top It All Off…

  1. Where do you get the wine to top of the other barrels? Do you “sacrifice” one barrel for the job? Or do you keep some wine in a stainless (i.e., more stable) environment solely for this purpose. Also, if the wine in a particular barrel is a vineyard designate, do you have to top it off with more of the same?

  2. dwdirwin says:

    I had been planning to address that issue in the post, since that was a question I had for my husband as well, but somehow that got lost in the shuffle of life. Yes, we do get the wine from barrels to start with, but since we don’t want to have the same topping problem with our barrels used for topping, once we break into a barrel, we then move it to floating lid tanks to avoid the headspace issue. And, we don’t use the dregs either, we use higher end lots to top all lots. Being that all Naggiar wines come from the estate, anything we use is within the vineyard designation, however, we do top lot with lot and varietal with the same varietal. Thanks for bringing this to my attention- it gives me warm fuzzies to know someone is really reading it!

    • I particularly like reading your blog as it gives great insight as to the inner workings of a winery–stuff that us lay people rarely get to see. You also lay it out (as I think you mentioned once) in language that you don’t need an advanced degree in Chemistry to understand. Thanks so much for writing about all of this!

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