October 14, 2011

All of our wines receive at least some barrel aging time, from just under a year for the Belli Chardonnay to just over two years for the Estate Cab. As wine ages in barrels, water and alcohol slowly evaporate out through the wood. Removing the liquid components of the wine concentrates the compounds left behind (such as tannins and other phenols responsible for flavor and texture), giving the wine an enhanced richness.

However, as the water and alcohol evaporate out through the barrel, air migrates in to take their place, creating a bubble of air in the top of the barrel. This bubble is also known as the ‘headspace’ of the barrel, and it is potentially a source of problems.

Having the wine in direct, prolonged contact with air creates a surface where all sorts of wine spoilage microorganisms may start to grow. To minimize the risk from these spoilage organisms, we routinely fill the headspace in the barrel with more wine, effectively eliminating the surface and preventing them from growing.

This process is known as ‘topping’, and we generally do it once a month.

We store the wine we use for topping in stainless steel kegs. We use compressed nitrogen to push the wine out of the kegs and into the barrels. Since we are topping wines that are made from both organic grapes and non-organic grapes, we have to be extremely careful to prevent any cross-topping of different lots. We top the wines made from organic grapes first, and then the wines made from non-organic grapes second, to make sure there is no possibility of the latter mixing in with the former.

During harvest, it can sometimes work out that we are too busy to top on schedule, and the topping may be delayed by a few weeks. Fortunately, the cool weather from last week has created a lull at the end of this week, so we were able to top right on schedule.

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


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