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Inspired by Ron's post here, I'm wondering how necessary it is to top off a carboy of wine that is aging. I have 5 containers of mead/wine right now and they all have headspace. Not a ton but they definitely are not full to the neck.

I imagine the answer has to do with whether or not/how often you open the container to take samples. I don't think I've ever had any major issues related to headspace in my beer/cider but I don't have as much experience with wine. I imagine if it was an issue I'd already be in trouble since this mead has been in there for a year now (as of this past Monday).

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My understanding is that the "desire for no headspace" requirement is a bit of a myth for short term fermentations, as the natural release of CO2 is heavier than air and will create a protective layer. However, I could see for long term aging this could be more of an issue. In that case, it might be advisable to top off or purge a container with CO2 before racking and seal it with an airlock or even an undrilled stopper if fermentation is done. –  Wyrmwood Dec 6 '13 at 23:17
    
I agree but I suppose I was wondering if wine itself was more susceptible to oxidation for whatever reason. From my understanding wines need to spend quite a bit more time in a carboy than a beer (especially mead). I figured this was the main reason for wanting to top off but I wonder if it is a big enough factor to warrant the risk of contaminating a batch by adding additional fluid. –  LoganGoesPlaces Dec 7 '13 at 5:35
    
I would certainly not do this outside of a scheduled racking. No point in adding any additional risk. Typically, wine is racked off the lees every 3 months or so. Jack Keller recommends splitting a 6 gallon batch into 1 and 5 gallons and using the 1 gallon to top up the 5 gallon. That sounds complicated to me and adds a second fermentation to keep clean. He also mentions using sanitized marbles (to add displacement). winemaking.jackkeller.net/starting.asp –  Wyrmwood Dec 9 '13 at 20:16
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I was having a conversation with the local Mead guru at the last UNYHA(Upstate NY Homebrewers Association) meeting and asked this question. He said that he never worries about headspace. Most of his batches sit around for ~5 years and other than normal racking off of sediment he takes no precautions additional precautions. He hasn't noticed any off flavors either. –  LoganGoesPlaces Feb 4 at 19:13
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2 Answers

I believe the main reason for topping off wine is to reduce headspace. This is only necessary after initial fermentation, when the CO2 produced wards off Oxygen. Wine is very susceptible to oxidation. However, if you have the wine in a carboy already, use instinct to think about how much you will disturb the wine by topping off. I think people normally top off directly after a racking. Also make sure you are topping off with juice or wine that hasn't been exposed to contaminants.

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Just finished my first batch of mead, aged for two years in carboy, racking 4-5 times total. It got to have a bit of head space, but turned out fine without any topping off. I don't have any authoritative sources, but anecdotally it can work alright without any special precautions.

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according to mead makers Midnight Meadery, the oxidized flavors of honey do not negatively affect flavor, whereas oxidized wine tends to taste like brandy/port and taints with a brown color. –  mdma Dec 29 '13 at 18:29
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