June 21st, 2015
Native yeast vs Inoculated Fermentation
Fermentation is the process of yeast converting sugar into alcohol with a byproduct of carbon dioxide. According to Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop in “Authentic Wine” there are over 800 aroma and flavor compounds in wine and over 400 of them come from yeast. Based on that fact it is obvious that yeast is very important to the flavor and aroma of wine. The most common yeast used by winemakers who choose to inoculate is Saccharomyces cerevisiae due to its tolerance to survive a high alcohol environment. There are also native yeasts that live in the vineyard and in the winery. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is there in smaller quantities compared with wild yeasts from the Kloeckera and Candida genus at the start of fermentation.
Grapes are picked whole cluster and placed in bins where the fermentation process starts almost immediately as the clusters on top crush the ones on the bottom and the wild yeast begins turning the grape juice into alcohol. Some producers prefer using whole cluster fermentations but most of them will destem the grapes so only the whole grapes remain. Lalou Bize-Leroy, one of the best producers in Burgundy, chooses to use whole cluster fermentation. One of her main reasons is to not disturb the native yeast. The wild yeast strains dominate the first few days of fermentation until the alcohol level reaches 3-5%. After that S. cerevisiae takes over because it can handle the higher alcohol environment.
Once the grapes come into the winery the winemaker can let the fermentation continue naturally or they can kill the native yeast either with sulfur dioxide or by dropping the temperature. Once the native yeast is no longer active they add a cultured yeast, most often S. cerevisiae. A third option is to add a cultured yeast after a few days, never killing the wild yeast.
The argument for using cultured yeast is for its predictable and vigorous fermentations. It gives larger wineries the ability to have a consistent product. The winemaking school UC Davis promotes this approach because it is more consistent and reduces the risk of getting negative side effects from wild yeast. Fermentations are also typically shorter, allowing for more tank space for larger wineries leading to more production.
The argument for using native yeast is that even though the wild yeast only survive for a few days until the alcohol gets too high, they still provide texture and give the wine a sense of place.
I can’t help but think that if over half of the aroma and flavor compounds come from yeast that having the native yeast begin fermentation for even a few days adds complexity. All of the best and most expressive Pinot Noir I have had in my life come from producers who use native yeast. If nothing else it definitely expresses the vineyard in its purest context.
Read this article to find out what winemakers are saying about fermentation:
Saturday, March 14th,
Pinot Noir is considered the grape that showcases the site where the grapes are grown better than other varietal. Aka, it expresses terroir. Pinot Noir is a thin skinned grape that is very sensitive to extremes so it is hard to grow. Great Pinot Noir is the pinnacle of wine from my experiences. However, there are some winemakers who don't have the quality of fruit (because it is very hard to grow) so they mask the terroir of the wine by manipulating it with science. Others that buy bulk juice from larger wineries when they make too much. Maybe it is adding oak chips, adding mega purple to add color as well as add fruitiness, or even adding sugar (called chaptalization), etc. Oak aging is very traditional but the use of adding oak chips has increased significantly. There are times when it is needed to add sugar. In Oregon we occasionally have cool vintages such as in 2007 and 2011. If winemakers weren't allowed to add sugar the wines could be out of balance and/or green/vegetal in taste. If you want to read more about over manipulated wines you can read an article here
The best Pinot Noir in the world is often used with a minimalist approach to winemaking. I came across an article that discusses many techniques for making Pinot Noir and at the end goes over some of the famous producers methods. The entire article is worth but the end is what I was interested in. I went to a "Best of Burgundy" tasting in LA at the LA School of wine back in 2009 and tried twenty one wines that ranged in price from $120-$2,200. Two of the famous producers Domaine Dujac and Domaine Leroy are discussed in the article. The article says Dujac uses 40% whole cluster, 4-6 day cold soak (30 total days of maceration), fermentation temperatures around 81 degrees, 100% new oak, no filtering. Leroy uses 100% whole cluster, 5-6 day cold soak, long fermentation, no fining or filtering. Burgundy uses the native yeast that lives in the vineyard and in the winery. In Oregon, many wineries are using native yeast as well, rather than kill the native yeast with sulfur dioxide and add a cultured yeast. The truly special wines out there let the grapes express the site and not try to mask the fruit by manipulating the wine. Read the whole article here to learn more about making Pinot Noir.
Thursday, Feb 5th
I read an article today on Enology International where Jordan Ross writes about a variety of wine related subjects. The article is titled "Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Winemaking". The article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of fermenting with native yeast. Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop authors of "Authentic Wine" say there are an estimated 800 volatile flavor compounds in wine and over 400 of them come from yeast. Even though the native yeasts mostly die off after alcohol reaches four or five percent it seems very likely that the diversity of native yeast early on could lead to more complexity. The best Pinot Noir I have ever tasted has been crafted with native yeast. That is what they do in the Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy. However, not all vineyards contain yeast that are ideal for fermentation. Ridge winemaker Paul Draper says warmer regions with higher yields don't work as well with native fermentation. UC Davis advocates that winemakers have controlled fermentations so there is less risk. Oregon Vine2Wine Tours loves it when a wine expresses the site, the terroir, where it is grown. Read the article if you are a wine geek or just want to read about the advantages and disadvantages of using native yeast. http://www.enologyinternational.com/yeast/wildyeast.html
Dec 14, 2014
Randy Kenmer does a great job with his blog for Wine Country. This one discusses how a winery was penalized for making an elegant style wine by critic Robert Parker. I am always appalled when wines are manipulated to appease critics.
Oregon Vine2Wine Tours highly recommends a video that was shown on PBS that goes over the Oregon wine evolution. It is very well done and has wonderful information for all you wine lovers out there. Here is a link:
March 14th, 2014
The event was a friend-raiser for the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The speaker: southern Oregon climatologist Gregory Jones, who has been studying Oregon wine and climate change for 25 years. The subject: Terroir. "A stretch of land limited by its agricultural capacity.... What is unique to a given region: soil, geology, geographic identity, sense of place, somewhereness." Yet you have to get the climate to work with the variety, landscape, soil, output, style, quality and consumer expectation. "If you don't get the climate right, nothing else matters."
While global average warming has plateaued the last four years - partly, he said, because of the absorption of heat by the oceans - the world is still on a steady warming cycle. Instead of expounding on the reasons for that upward trend, he focused on the effects of climate change on grapes and wine. What I found most compelling was a graphic he displayed on the so-called "sweet spots" for wine - the optimal average temperature range for a variety of grapes. Of the 30 on the chart, Pinot Noir had the smallest sweet spot, with tables grapes, cabernet sauvignon and merlot among the largest. If the average temperature for a season is below the sweet spot, wines can appear unripe and unbalanced; if temperatures are too high, high sugar can result in over-ripe flavors and high alcohol. Taking the optimum temperature range for the grapes to express themselves - and the soil and region - he pointed out what happens by moving the temperature ranges as they have warmed over the last 25 years; some grapes - especially the colder-loving whites - may no longer be suitable for certain areas, while warm-loving varieties from Greece and Portugal, for example, may come into the play.
He used grenache as an example of warming in Europe. North Africa and the far southern reaches of Italy, Spain and Greece used to dominate the market; old growers have switched to other varieties while France and Germany have taken up the grenache slack. Harvest times on the Rhine alone can be 25 days earlier than they were 30 years ago.
All seasons matter, even winter. "You may get sporadic bud break with a warmer dormant season." Extreme temperature variations can affect bud break and flowering, affecting yields, along with the usual cautions for weather phenomena such as heavy rain, sleet and frost with extreme heat and drought on the other side of the ledger. And then you have the new fungus or pests that come with the warmer temps. The stink bug is the current grape-grower enemy No. 1.
Will climate indeed continue to change? Jones expects so - and for grape growers and wine makers to keep their crops in the sweet spot.
February 28, 2014
So, you want to go wine tasting but you don’t want to drive. You have a few options.
You can plan a tour yourself, starting by appointing a friend or family member to be the designated driver. This is a great way to taste if you want to experience new wineries and aren’t looking for anything specific. You can make your own schedule and take as much or as little time at each winery as you like. The downside is that the wineries might be crowded so you may not receive as much attention as you like. You might also miss information about the area and the wine history during the drive between wineries. It won’t be an inexpensive day either since you will have to pay tasting fees that usually run around $10/person. Throw in gas and lunch and it adds up quickly.
Another option: hire a limo company to take you and your group around. This is a great option if you want to ride in comfort with several people. Depending on the size of the limo it isn’t that expensive to go on a local tour ($400-$500 for a group of 6 for a 5 hour tour). That usually doesn’t include tasting fees, lunch and often times gas. You can still run into crowds and your driver may or may not be knowledgeable about wine.
A third option: hire a winery tour company. The benefits: your guide will be knowledgeable about the wine region, be able to answer most of your questions about wine and be able to cater the tasting to what you want. Companies can set up private tastings, some will even arrange time with winemakers or owners. Some companies cover tasting fees and lunch, others do not. When you’re researching you want to ask about fees in considering the total cost. Most companies charge $100-200 per person. Remember, most places charge $10/person for a standard tasting.
I own a winery tour business called Oregon Vine2Wine Tours. We charge $300 for a couple and $125 per person on top of that up to six people. (We only do groups up to six people to keep all tastings intimate and personal). All tasting fees and lunch are included in the price. We visit four wineries in one region. The Umpqua Valley near Roseburg is a good choice for big red lovers, while the Eola-Amity region near Salem is a great choice for Pinot Noir fans. We can also tour around Newberg in the Chehalem Mountains. Each winery arranges a private tasting, most of them involving an owner or a winemaker. We focus on terroir driven producers who make wines that show a sense of place. Most of these are small producers, many of them still relatively unknown to the general public. Going on a tour with us gives you the chance to meet owners and winemakers, letting them share their passion of wine with you. It is a fun and educational way to go wine tasting.
Wine tasting is fun no matter how you do it. Some people just want to go taste various wines and have a nice social experience. Other people want to learn about what they are tasting, a little wine history and meet owners or winemakers who can share their passion of wine. There is no right or wrong way to go tasting. You choose what’s best for you.