Remplissage a billes (topping up barrels with marbles)

A few of you may have read that I use marbles for topping up my barrels. The reason is simple. By way of evaporation, you lose a decent amount of wine in barrel over time. If you aren’t watchful over your barrels, ensuring that the amount of ‘free’ space is kept to a minimum, you risk having the wines oxidize. There are many ways to go about topping up (or is it ‘off’?) is to simply use wine that is laying around either in barrel, tank, some even use wine from other vintages. I know, I know. This may make a good many people cringe. And, I understand this. As I mentioned, there are many ways to solve this problem.

Another way to go about topping up barrels long ago was to add stones to the barrel, which would displace a good volume of wine, taking away the empty space that threatens to oxidize your wine.  I’m all for older techniques, of course. And, I really do like the idea of not diluting the terroir with other wine. With this in mind, once my little barrels of wine from each appellation ran out I go to thinking about another way to top up. Marbles! They are common to find (normally – more on that later), inexpensive (more on that too) and really the best way I can think of to keep the barrel 100% proper.

I would visit supermarkets and buy a few packs of marbles here and there. A toy shop occasionally, naturally. This was always interesting to explain to people why a grown man was buying hundreds of marbles. I would simply mention that it was for topping up my wines, ‘mostly the Grand Crus’ I would mention (I still had extra of the Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru at this point).  If I’m not mistaken, this left people just a bit more than confused. These things were cheap… in terms of wine making equipment anyhow. Well, on the surface, you can’t imagine really breaking the budget on marbles. That would be insane. But, a few times, I was in a tight spot and I had to overpay. Normally, I spend roughly $.06 for each marble. However, there was a time in Dijon that I paid nearly 4 times that as I was running low and needed to stock up. If you start a system such as this, you can’t turn back and do something else. It just doesn’t work that way. Its tough you know. You want to make the best wine you can, but kids want marbles too, right? I couldn’t take all the marbles and leave a child crying now, could I? Well, the truth is that I’ve cleaned a few places out. 🙂 I’d buy 40 packs easy. These are standard size, nothing special. However, you wouldn’t believe just how difficult they are to find on the cheap in France. Some can cost up to a euro each…for no apparent reason.

Anyhow, just a few days back, I wandered into a discount toy shop, looking for wine equipment, of course.  And what did I find? Marbles on clearance. Long story short, the price ended up being a third of the price of which I normally pay. They had a ridiculous supply so I did what any self respecting wine maker would do…I bought over 6,500 marbles. No typo. Its not just odd that I did it. Its worse that I had to mention it here. But really, I figured it was important enough to mention since (as strange as it may seem), these small things have a direct effect on the wine. And, really who wouldn’t be happy to finally lay to rest the silly task of searching store after store for something such as marbles? I’ll be going back for more in a week or so to make sure that I have enough.

Today, my daughter and I again topped up the barrels together. She sits on one barrel while topping up the one next to it. Each time we open a barrel, she gives the gives the barrel a smell check. The comments always cause me to laugh since she can be fairly complimentary. Though on the muted barrels she doesn’t say anything at all. She prefers to go one by one (practicing counting), which can take an incredibly long time, apparently.  Somehow, I never seem quite able to keep track of just how long it takes each time we top up. Time just passes. Either way, its rather fun having her be such a help in the making of the wines.

Thanks for reading


4 thoughts on “Remplissage a billes (topping up barrels with marbles)

  1. Hi Ray,
    Im a winemaker from Australia and have just taken up your idea of topping with marbles. Just wondering, how do you go about cleaning them and any manufacturing residue? Some of the ones Ive procured are a faux metallic looking glass and wondering if you’d had any experience with them.


    Joshua Cooper

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