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June 21, 2011

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Preventing the influence of other yeast at harvest can be pretty difficult (using the same hoses/valves/pumps/tanks/winery space etc.) I was wondering if either Evan or Johannes could comment on how one keeps things sterilized (beyond being sanitized) in order to assure only the native yeast is working?

I ask because this discussion usually comes up when speaking with a scientist for controlled experiments - especially with yeasts.

I absolutely applaud all the things that Johannes is doing, and he is leading the way in many respects. Let us hereby agree that semantics matter, and that ALL YEASTS ARE NATURAL, whether they have come from a tetra-brick or have colonized the winery. I only care because the assumption (to the lay reader) is that introduced yeasts are not natural.

Peter - You know that I am careful with language; I think I'm one of the few writers who uses mesoclimate in place of microclimate. So regarding "natural" yeast, I take the point. I'm changing all references that are not quotations to "native." Just know that in this case, I simply employed the term used by the winemaker.

Tom - I'll ask Johannes to jump in and address that!

Evan: I think that even "native" yeasts can be problematic in this instance. "Native" implies that the yeasts doing the bulk of the work in the ferments are "native" to either the vineyard or the winery.

Based on my understanding of this sort of fermentation, at least some of the yeasts (and sometimes the ones that end up dominating, because they are bread to be hearty) end up being yeasts that were previously purchased and inoculated. I think the only way to know which yeasts are doing what is to spend lots of money on DNA testing -- which no one expects to be done.

I've used "natural" and "native" and "wild" in the past, but I think my current thinking points to "ambient"

The discussion on this subject is interesting and reveals that there is ambiguity when it comes to microbiology. Which yeast dominates the fermentation? Who knows. But if you have a good microscope and you know your yeasts you may find out. In the end, unless there is a demonstrable quality that emerges, does it really matter. And the point made above by Peter Bell and amplified by Evan and Lenn needs no further elaboration.
Another thing to look for is how the wine will taste after 2 years. We all know that in a young wine there are many "fermentation" aromas. Batches of the same fruit fermented with different yeasts will show dramatic difference in sensorial qualities. Yet it is frequently true that after a couple years they will converge again showing the prevailing mark of the grape rather than the yeast.
In conclusion, the function of yeast is to convert sugar to alcohol. And that microbe does that job rather well, whether it was grown and packaged or whether it it was untamed in the wild.

Ditto Peter on this one.

Charles - Why do you think there are so many winemakers in Europe who would disagree with your last statement? (And not to fall prey to semantics again; what I'm saying is that many European winemakers would not so casually declare that yeast is just fine whether it's cultivated and sold or "untamed in the wild.")

Evan,

Which part do they disagree with? It is well known that yeast, regardless of its provenance, does ferment the sugar. If anyone disagrees then I will have learned something here. Also the major yeast companies are European and their US market is small in relation to what they sell in Europe.

By the way I am not advocating to using one or the other as we do use both avenues. And as Tom Higgins points out it is quite a challenge in a winery to insure that it is in fact the native yeast that prevails as the flora of the winery may already be populated with other yeasts.

What comes out in such conversations is that native yeasts rarely include saccaromyce cerevisiae and researchers have had a difficult time isolating it in newly planted vineyards, other than coming from the winery: it is accepted that while some other yeasts than SC will start the fermentation, it is typically the SC that finishes it as it dominates.

When lees and press solids are returned to the vineyard floors, yeast may be propagated in this manner and when it returns to the winery will it then be considered native or cultured? It is a complicated topic and our urge to want to understand everything may lead us to questionable conclusions.

That drives us to drink I suppose?

native, wild and indigenous are all farily presumtive terms in this instance... i'm with lenn on ambient. uninoculated or spontaneous are how i've referred to those wines i've made in that way

I accept that language matters here. But how sad that the only real discussion seems to be about what to call the yeast, and not whether the approach is worthwhile.

Charles - Sigh. I bent over backward to make my point clear, and you found a way to miss it! Yes, everyone agrees on the point of yeast. But some of the best winemakers disagree when you minimize the importance of which type of yeast is used. That's what I'm saying.

Evan,

Surprised by your response.
I do not see where I minimize it.
If you disagree with the notion of convergence I invite you to take a batch of grapes, divide it up and ferment them with 2 different yeasts of your choice. When you taste them after the fermentation they will taste different but a couple of years later you will be surprised how they will have converged.
There is no other way that I can convince you or anyone else I am afraid. And with that I submit that in the end it is the grape that prevails. I did try this years ago and I have not kept any samples as I blended them together given the lack of significant difference. But I did learn something useful. I really have no skin in this game but was offering you a perspective that perhaps you did not have a chance to be exposed to. So rather than annoy you some more I will now drop out of this thread.

Cheers,

Charles

Charles -

I fear we are falling victim to the internet's failure to convey tone. I was trying to convey whimsy, some light-hearted exasperation. That's all. I wanted to point out that we all can agree about the purpose of yeast.

Now, I am not so dogmatic as to be unable to enjoy some education. I don't have skin in this fight, either; I enjoy buying and drinking wines made with all kinds of yeast. I find it interesting that even the attempt to control which kind of yeast carries the fermentation is difficult and, perhaps, futile.

When you say that in the end, the grape prevails... That is of great comfort. That is what we all hope to see. However, when winemakers describe a "uniform," I read that to say that while the grape is able to show its stuff, it is pushed in a certain direction by the choice of yeast. Does that mean the grape is not allowed to succeed? I certainly wouldn't say so. But it opens the conversation beyond the notion of the grape always prevailing, doesn't it?

Let me make plain: I meant no disrespect, my friend. Cheers.

With regard to what we should call uninoculated yeasts, the term I like best is 'feral', which essentially means 'escaped from domestication'. Yes, there are plenty of yeasts out there on the grapes, but the ones that take a fermentation though to dryness have been shown to be domesticated ones.

Peter -

I think this would be a fitting bottle pic with the name "Ferel Riesling"

http://thekingoftexas.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/feral-cat3534.jpg

Cheers,
Tom

whoops ferel = feral

http://thekingoftexas.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/feral-cat3534.jpg

Hey, that's my little Fluffy! So you caught her on a bad day.

Kudos to Johannes for taking a "walk on the wild side."

I happen to agree with his philosophy with regard to the perception of uniformity in the use of commercially available yeast cultures. The terminology is mostly semantic however and when it comes to this discussion one has to remember that all yeasts that live with use are more or less "domesticated." Yeasts are in fact one of the first organisms to become domesticated by humans as they have been selected over thousands of years to perform the duties we have charged them with.

With regard to the populations that exist within a certain estate, the current research has shown that every winery/vineyard develops its own unique combination of yeast inside and out - both Saccharomyces and Non-Saccharomyces strains. The factors in the vineyard - location, exposure and orientation, as well as the specifics of the internal winery including temperature, equipment, and building construction all lead to a specific evolution and balance of yeast strains. Also as mentioned earlier in this thread, the effects of the NS strains of yeast have a huge influence on fermentation aromas and flavors as NS strains are typically not allowed to develop under conventional inoculation and S02 addition at crush. Some of these NS strains are thought to produce esters enzymatically. Also recent work is showing that some NS strains will still be quite active even towards the end of fermentation. A good article on this can be found here:

http://www.unitechscientific.com/pdf_files/The%20Role%20and%20Use%20of%20Non-Saccharomyces%20Yeasts%20in%20Wine%20Production%20N.P.%20Jolly.pdf

It takes time to develop this unique flora and it requires a different set of thinking with regards to vineyard practices and winery sanitation. But there is no doubt that over time there is clearly a special ecosystem that develops specific to every winery and vineyard - one that is no longer influenced by one strain.

Typically, a cool, maritime climate like the North Fork of Long Island will breed greater populations of Non-Saccharomyces flora than drier and warmer areas. The result is the North Fork – as well as the east coast in general – is fertile ground for spontaneous fermentation.

To me, most importantly, Bedell Cellars has its own family of native yeast. Some live around us in the winery while others enter from the vineyard – reuniting each year like old friends and families. They evolved and established themselves – unbeknownst to us – in sustainable proportions in order to survive and prosper. One can see terroir come full circle through the ecology of spontaneous fermentation and manifest itself within our wines.

Should the writer cater to that? Or try to challenge the readers with something new? The brave, gutsy, "correct" answer is the second one -- but you can't challenge anyone if your sales are too low to get any more books published. Readers buy what they want to read, not what someone thinks they should read.

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