How to Pick a Wine Making Yeast

How to Pick a Wine Making Yeast

Yeast is the most critical ingredient in the wine making process. When you pick a wine making yeast you are, in effect, choosing the destiny of your wine. The right yeast or yeasts can transform a good grapes into a great wine. Where do The Differences Come From? These tiny organisms are truly amazing. Not only does it make the production of wine possible it is the only micro-organism capable of producing this elixir. However, the notion that different yeasts can alter the way a wine tastes in the end is a relatively new discovery. For most of this worlds past 6,000 years of winemaking history winemakers didn’t even know what yeast was let alone understanding the different strains and what they can do. Only in recent history have we discovered that different strains will produce different characteristics in wine. Fermentation, from the yeasts perspective, is merely the digestion of food. They consume and process sugars and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide as their byproduct. Some yeast strains may use more or less enzymes or esters and it’s these small differences in digestion that account for different flavor profiles. To help you sift through all the different yeasts and how they affect different grape varietals our friends over at MoreWineMaking.com have put together an amazing guide! Click here to browse their entire collection of free manuals and pick up Yeast and Grape Pairing. Picking A Winemaking Yeast To give you an idea of how to pick a wine yeast I’ll walk you through my own decision making process. My next wine is going to be a Riesling kit and I’m going to do a little experiment. I’m going to pick my own yeast to replace whatever the kit comes with. I’ll be using two different yeast strains in a split fermentation. Half of the grape juice will be fermented with one strain of yeast and the strain will ferment the other half. This way I can directly compare how the same wine tastes when made from two very different yeasts. Here are the yeasts I’ve chosen and why. The first yeast is W15. This yeast is known to produce citrus flavors, heavy mouthfeel, and can stand up to aging. Aging is an important characteristic for a kit wine for reasons we’ll explore here in a minute. Th second yeast I’ve picked is R-HST (catchy name huh?). This yeast can produce rose and peach flavors, some mouthfeel, as well as minerality. Minerality is a quality that also lends itself to aging. The Differences Take Time to Manifest In an interesting article on the flavor contributions of yeast Cornell researchers found that most characteristics yeast impart on wine take six months to a year to show up. This is, in part, why it took so long for winemakers to figure out that different yeasts produced different flavor profiles. They were comparing wines too early. Kits generally don’t produce wine that can be aged for very long. My concern is that the wine will start to decline before the yeast characteristics show up. This is why I chose two strains known to produce wines that can be aged. Ferment Separately Because...

Read More

Two Approaches to Making Wine

As a winemaker there are two different approaches you can take making wine. One is over bearing and controlling while the other is a gentle guide. Which will you choose? At each step of the way the overbearing winemaker is constantly checking and adjusting everything. From sulfur dioxide levels to pH to sugar content no aspect of the wine is left untouched. The grape juice is beaten down and forced to fit the winemaker’s vision. Incidentally this is often how commercial super-wineries must function in order to produce a consistent product from year to year. How else can every vintage taste exactly the same? They must meet their customers expectations regardless of the grapes natural tendencies for that vintage. On the other end of the spectrum is the laissez faire parent who lovingly guides their child but never forces them in any given direction. They’re allowed to grow up and fulfill their own destiny. Chemistry is only meddled with if things are not going in a positive direction, otherwise the yeast and grape juice are left to their own devices. While this doesn’t lend itself to a consistent wine from year to year it often produces much more spectacular results. Different vintages will have different characteristics. The Creation of Wine is a Natural Process Everything required to make wine occurs naturally without any intervention at all from us. Yeast grows naturally on grapes and when the grapes fall from the vine and begin to break down the yeast turns the sugar into alcohol just like in your fermenter. There are many more bacterias and micro-organisms that also congregate on grapes, however, that lead to a terrible tasting rotten mush. As winemakers it is our job to create the best possible conditions for the yeast to work its magic. At the same time these other micro-organisms must be stopped. Sulfur dioxide, it turns out, is just strong enough to kill off the undesirable elements yet leaves the yeast uninhibited. Herein lies your choice. Will you control this process in every detail or let nature take its course with some guidance from a loving hand? What Great Winemakers Do Truly great winemakers intervene as little as possible during the winemaking process. Many will ferment their wine with the naturally occurring yeast that came with their grapes. Strong-arm tactics like adding sugar to produce 16% alcohol are just not the trademark of a remarkable winemaker. A great winemaker will taste the fruit and the crushed grapes and determine what its outstanding characteristics are and guide the wine such that those characteristics are emphasized in the finished product. It takes more knowledge and skill to use fewer chemicals in the winemaking process. Recently I read an article where one winemaker in particular was advocating the listing of chemicals used to make wine on the back wine label. His argument was that the best winemakers will list little more than grapes, yeast, and sulfur dioxide. It would separate the great winemakers from the overbearing ones. Consumers would be able to evaluate the quality of wine based on how it tastes relative to the ingredients used. Starting Out If you’re just getting started with...

Read More

The Heart of a Winemaker

It takes a special kind of person to want to make wine. Loving wine itself is not enough. You must love the science behind the art. Do you have the heart of a winemaker? A winemaker is someone who is: 1. Passionate about wine. If you don’t love every aspect of wine and what goes into it then this is the wrong direction for you. Without passion winemaking is just too technical and too slow to keep your interest. Those with a passion for wine will be smitten by talk of malolactic fermentation, debating the best oak blends, and waging war in the great battle of corks versus screw-caps. Do you have the passion? Who’s side are you on? 2. A little nerdy. Let’s face it winemakers play with hydrometers, worry about titratable acid, and obsess over micro-organisms. Neglecting any detail could be the difference between creating the elixir of life and rancid grape juice. Sound like  you? 3. Patient as hell. It’s true, to put it bluntly. Waiting one to two weeks between each step of the winemaking process is hard enough. Once you’re done making the wine then comes the aging. Heaven help you if you’re making a tannic red wine or a mead, it can take years before that stuff is ready for consumption. There are many proponents of making your own wine that would have you believe this is for anyone. True, most anyone has the skills to make wine. It is simple in that respect. However, to see the transformation of grapes into a truly amazing, nay, magical wine takes something more. Do you have that something? Is there an alchemist lying dormant in your subconcious? If so, then I dare you to take the plunge, you won’t regret it! Challenge yourself and reap the...

Read More