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Barrel Topping: An Artful Dance

What is barrel topping? Often people ask what makes a vintage of wine taste the way it does. While weather, yield, and time in the barrel make a difference, many people do not know about barrel topping. Our winemaker, Kari Hazen, shares her experience of this often overlooked but important task in shaping our wine’s character, preserving its flavors, and creating balance in each barrel of wine.

What is Barrel Topping?

When barrels are filled with wine, over time there is evaporation that occurs. Barrel topping is a practice in winemaking that replenishes wine barrels as they age, compensating for this evaporation. Each barrel breathes, interacts, and nurtures the wine inside, making it essential to maintain its integrity throughout maturation.

Why Does Barrel Topping Matter?

Oxygen: By letting in oxygen when topping off each barrel, it enhances the taste and aroma of each wine as it ages.

Consistency: Topping off barrels ensures that each sip, from the first glass to the last, reflects consistent quality and character, bottle after bottle.

Preservation: Minimizing headspace through topping off protects wine from spoilage and excessive oxidation, preserving its essence which will later be bottled.

Interesting Facts about Barrel Topping:

Angels' Share: During aging, some wine evaporates from the barrels, poetically known as the "Angels' Share," adding to the mystique of winemaking.

The "Topping Dance": Picture a winemaker gracefully maneuvering among rows of barrels, carefully gauging the wine needed for topping. It's a choreography, or an artful dance in the cellar. As an almost 60 year old woman winemaker, Kari shares that she constantly feels empowered, confident, and strong when she climbs up the barrels to top each one off. This “dance” requires lots of physical stamina and strength and she shared that she feels impressed every time she tops off a barrel.

The Secret Ingredient: To maintain consistency, winemakers often use reserved wine from the same vintage for topping off barrels, capturing the unique essence of the vineyard.

Barrel topping is more than a routine task; it's a pivotal step in winemaking that often requires creative decision making from the winemaker. As a woman winemaker at Rancho Roble, Kari takes pride in nurturing each barrel, adding her touch to the flavors that will pour into your glass. Cheers to barrel topping!

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