Wild Yeast Fermentation: “There’s No Such Thing”
Some fairly stunning information concerning the idea of “Wild” or “Indigenous” yeast is coming to light that has implications for wine marketing and wine making. How shall I put this? Let’s try this: If you think your wine went through fermentation driven by wild yeast or if you think the wine you are drinking was produced via a wild yeast fermentation, it probably wasn’t.
This is the startling conclusion brought to light in a study undertaken in British Columbia and reported upon by Andy Perdue in the new August 2013 issue of Wine Business Monthly. Here’s the money quote:
The results of the three years study of three wineries in British Columbia under the auspices of the University of British Columbia were first disclosed at a talk given at last summer’s British Columbia Wine Grape Council’s Annual Meeting.
The esteemed Ken Wright of Ken Wright cellars described what he heard at the meeting as “Amazing”, and went on to note that the findings “flew in the face of what I and most people were assuming happens in fermentations…Wild fermentations are anything but wild. Yes, you have a strain that is identified as wild. But that strain is almost immediately overwhelmed by house yeast. Within the first few days of fermentation, they are gone. The commercial strains fight it out for domination.”
The questions, then are these: will commercial strains take over a fermentation in a winery where no commercial yeast has ever been used before? Even if you have never used a commercial strain of yeast, will your “wild” fermentation be overtaken by a dominant commercial strain if you are producing wine in a region where commercial strains have been used by other wineries and that become part of the regional environment (terrior)?
Wright is organizing a similar study in Oregon that will include Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Beaux Freres, Grand Cru Estates, Cristom and Bethel Heights Winery. Also, Road 13 Vineyards, one of the original 3 wineries involved in the study, is in the process of building a new facility that will never have had a commercial yeast used in its proximity. They will test for which yeast strains are present in their first fermentations, further clarifying these startling results.
It’s notable that among the primary criteria to be called a “Natural” wine, is that the yeast used must be “wild” or “indigenous to the vineyard/winery. If these findings appear to be consistent across the globe’s growing regions, “Natural” winemaker may have to rethink what they consider necessary in order to call a wine “Natural”. Futhermore, numerous wines are marketed as being produced with “Wild Yeast”. Again, if these findings are consistent across growing regions, there may be a need to stop such marketing or make it easy and simply re-define what “wild” means.
For he record, the leader of the study reported upon in Wine Business Monthly, Dan Durrall, believes “there is no such thing as a ‘wild yeast’ fermentation.”