Our most frequent task

Topping all 59 of our Pinot Noir barrels from the 2019 vintage. November 2020.

One month later on the first day of bottling, with my wife, Breauna. December 2020.

Topping is essentially the most regular chore I do during the aging of the wine. So, this Yellow Notepad entry is for those of you who don’t know what topping is.

The French oak barrels obviously hold the liquid successfully, but they’re plenty porous enough to allow for evaporation. Part of the wine’s aging process is oxygen slowly penetrating into the barrel, and some of the wine slowly evaporating away. But we want to limit the amount of oxygen the Pinot Noir is exposed to. You can imagine that as wine evaporates, the liquid level gets lower in the barrel, and oxygen exposure increases. So I have to go in and add more wine every three weeks. That’s topping.

We keep the room temperature at about 55 degrees, and the humidity at 70 percent. If we kept the barrels any warmer or drier, you’d be surprised how much more quickly the wine would evaporate.

The wine I use for topping comes out of metal kegs. Initially, I break a barrel down and use it to top all the other barrels, but then I end up with a partial barrel — so I break the partial barrel down into kegs, and the kegs end up being my topping material going forward.

The top photo (so to speak) is the last time I topped the 2019s before blending and bottling. The next time I touched those barrels, I was taking all the wine out, blending into tank, and making sure everything was polished up. I always take one final look at the chemistry and usually adjust the dissolved CO2, dissolved oxygen, and sulfur right there at the end — just to make sure it’s perfect before it goes into bottle. From a volume standpoint, I’m turning 59 barrels into 6 wines into tens of thousands of bottles. So tweaking those six wines in tank is the last time that I, as a winemaker, get to look at everything. Then it’s pencils down — to use an engineering term — and we release the wines out into the wild.


A keg of wine for topping.

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