Topping Barrel

Don’t know how I stumbled upon this forum yesterday but somehow managed to… Have spent the last two days reading lots of posts… Wow lots of good info!! Was hoping I could get a question answered that is bugging the crap out of me… so i’m entirely new to wine making… bought some frozen must (brehm Syrah / Gren) from Washington state earlier this year (March)… this is my first wine which is now in a fresh new French Oak 55 Liter Radoux Barrel… I’m just curious how many of you top your barrels biweekly? Monthly? Every 3-6 months? I am so lost with how often I should be monitoring it… So far I’ve topped 2 times in the last month (biweekly) and measured my FSO2 each time… is a biweekly routine ok? or am I asking for oxidation in the future by removing the bung and flushing in the ullage space with oxygen too often? And when you top, are you measuring FSO2 each and every time for each barrel? I’ve noticed there are plenty of Commerical guys here on this forum, in fact the one who inspired me to do this in my garage (brian loring)… so I imagine you don’t measure FSO2 each and every time u top? this could get quite expensive and tedious I imagine… well anyways… thanks in advance!

I am not familiar with that size barrel; mine are 60 gallons. I top once a month, sometimes twice early on. Measure VA and FSO2 every two months. My barrels are stored in a commercial winery cold room so your mileage may vary.
Best, Jim

Thank you for the reply! Unfortunately my barrel is not in a cold room… but in an insulated wood crate I built with a window AC unit attached… I have some what “cellar” conditions (64F 70-80% RH)… anyways thanks again… i’ll continue with my biweekly routine for now and will go 1X month once I get the hand of how much SO2 in depleting in my “Cellar”


I have made home wine in small barrels and they need to be topped more often than the full size regular thing. I do every 4 weeks with 60gal barrels and would do every 2 weeks with 30 gal and every week with 15 gal barrel you are using. I had a 5 gal barrel that we topped every day to keep va/02 at bay.

If you have a bung with a hole in it and airlock then you don’t need to take the bung off/out to top. Once we memorized how much it took each topping for your storage conditions it went quite fast each time.

Ya, I just read this long article on VA… Sounds like it may be a good idea to keep the headspace minimal and top regularly as you suggest… maybe I should have the wine 's VA tested to see where I’m at and do it again after a month or two and see if I need to change my topping schedule if the VA is increasing at a fast pace…

ok thanks again!!! Truly appreciated!!

Actually I don’t know how measuring VA will help me other than taking more money away from my piggy bank… i’ll just use the old nostrils and if I ever smell some nail polish or vinegar aromas i’ll realize I’m screwed! So i’ll just Top more often as you suggested! Thanks again!

it is hard to say what is best overall. I would bet that not too many people have extensive experience with 55L barrels, but i would imagine it will lose volume at a faster rate than a standard barrel used for winemaking.
Do you know if your wine has finished fermentation and malolactic conversion? If it has, one way to potentially cut down on evaporation would be to turn your barrel with the bung at the 1 or 2 o’clock position, as almost all evaporative loss is through the bung seal. Also, do you have reason to be so concerned about your SO2 levels? Do you know your pH too, because that plays a huge role in how effective SO2 is on your wine.
The best advice i can think of is to follow your intuition, ie. if every two weeks you find yourself having to add a couple litres (a substantial % of your total volume) then keep topping, if it’s not, then leave it alone (which is the hardest thing to learn how to do when making wine).

It is def losing wine at a fast rate… I measured maybe 300mL(+) of wine I needed for topping last time… So this was after two weeks since I had previously removed the bung to top… I’m crossing my fingers it finished MLF… I should have sent a sample in to test the Malic Levels… I used Paper Chromatography… Didn’t show any Malic so I just waited a couple more weeks after that until I racked the wine from Carboys to the fresh new Barrel… I was able to keep the carboys around 72+ for a little over 6 weeks… so I imagine It finished…

As far as being concerned with SO2, I did noticed this weird film at the neck in the carboys when it was going thru MLF (brownish almost)… some clumps… didn’t really look like film yeast/mycoderma but just didn’t look right… No off aromas whatsoever, still fresh, but it just bothered me that’s why I’ve been trying to keep the SO2 levels around 44ppm… The pH is 3.64 last time I checked it, so I think 44ppm is a bit on the high side (maybe 0.65 Mol) anyways, ya this SO2 stuff Is complicated… the more and more I speak to Wine Makers (commercial) when visiting Wine Country the more and more I realize that everyone tries to stay on the low side, 20-30ppm during barrel aging… So it just throws me off… maybe most of the guys strive to keep their pH’s on the lower side 3.4-3.5 that way they can get away with 20-30ppm FSO2…

anyways, thanks for adding to the post Brian… really appreciate it… I’m going to top tomorrow which will be after waiting 3 weeks, if I notice i’m way below my target FSO2 then i’ll go back to topping biweekly for now…

TOday there is a “Garagiste” Wine tasting at a local wine bar in COsta Mesa… 5 wine makers coming down to pour their wines from Paso Robles… good opportunity to ask a million questions… Hope I don’t annoy the crap out of them :frowning:

anyways thanks again!!

oh ya and thank you for the advice regarding rotating the barrel a bit… i’ll give that a go tomorrow!

I forgot to add that you will get oak flavor pretty fast in the smaller barrels. The surface area to wine ratio is quite high. Taste it and when its a touch oakier than you want bottle it or transfer back to carboy.

Thanks joe! Ya I’m hoping i can let it ride till November when i should be ready to throw in some Pinot Noir from Los Alamos I’ll be getting this harvest… If I over oak, I’ll just let it bottle age for longer… Well assuming all goes smoothly and I actually am bottling my first wine sometime early next year haha

As mentioned already, the rate of evaporation will depend on storage conditions (temp and humidity). As long as you aren’t constantly opening the barrels with out topping, it’s usually fine to let the volume drop a bit over a few weeks. You’ve probably noticed that when you remove the bung there is suction (a vacuum), so the reduction in wine volume doesn’t really add much air unless, again, you are opening the bung and letting air in. It sounds like you’ve already started to figure out the evaporation rate, so just make sure you’re topping schedule and amount of topping wine will get you to the end of aging.

I make wine at home (30gal and a few 15gal barrels) and have had the same conversation regarding FSO2 levels with commercial winemakers. I’ve heard the same as you (30-40ppm). But as you said, it’s complicated. I’m under the impression that the commercial guys don’t really concern themselves with molecular SO2, but rather creating a generally unwelcome environment for spoilage organisms. In other words, if their pH is 3.8-4.2 (not uncommon in many california red wines such as cab and syrah), then the amount of FSO2 to reach 0.8 molecular is ridiculously high. So, keeping FSO2 at 30-40ppm with decent alcohol plus cool storage and clean winemaking techniques is sufficient without hitting 0.8 mFSO2. Also, the commercial guys can use velcorin or sterile filter if they run into problems with VA.

I occasionally test for VA at a lab (Vinquiry). Usually about halfway through elevage and near the end. Gives me an idea if I had a problem I couldn’t detect by taste, and if I did, makes me question reusing the barrel. It’s also worthwhile to test if you see quick drops is FSO2, as this may be an indicator of spoilage bugs.

BTW, a lot of your questions answered at

Thanks John, and your right… just got back from that Garagiste event and most of the wine makers told me the same, they keep their SO2 levels low unless problems arise in barrel… they use their nose to detect anything and hit it hard with SO2 if they smell anything off… anyways most advised me to top regularly and to limit headspace… they told that’s the most important thing! Anyways learned a lot… One of the wine makers from Turley (Karl Wicka) was extremely helpful… Great Guy! Anyways yes I read thru Winepress forum every day… I was just looking for some other opinions… the consensus over there seems to be minimal approach regarding topping schedule which is just fine… in the end what works, works… anyways thanks again everybody! Cheers!

IIRC you also need to be mindful of total SO2. If you add (I think) more that 100total ppm in all of your additions combined, you could notice the SO2 from a sensory perspective.