A French word meaning “a sense of place”, or in other words, the specific flavor provided by a very specific environment.
SOUNDS LIKE A BORING, OVERLY FANTASIZED, and let’s face it, an OVERLY WRITTEN ABOUT TOPIC, a topic that people trying to market their winery have talked about WAY to much…and to an extent, that’s exactly what it has become in many ways
Today, I want to talk vent a bit. I’m going to tell you why, in many circles this has become true, and in some cases, absolutely false.
There is definitely one aspect to terroir that is still VERY TRUE today. If you taste a Merlot from vineyard “a”, and one from vineyard “b” only a mile down the road, the temperature could vary significantly in those vineyards. One might be sheltered from wind by a hill, one might be on a slope that sees more sunlight. Temperature will affect the amount of time that grapes stay on the vines as well as the ending sugar content. This will affect alcohol levels and many other things. Also, certain soil types may be unique to certain areas, and different micro climates may have soil rich in different minerals that lead to different levels of vitamins in the grape before fermentation, resulting in a different flavor. There are thousands of variables, and this is a significant part of what is thought to be terroir….In my post about blending I go into this in great detail.
BUT : There is a one very fundamental part of TERROIR that we have almost completely lost as wine drinkers…and we want it back. If you go back to winemaking in times past, even just 20-30 years ago, this variance was HUGE. Not just a difference in temperature, not just a difference in soil.
Today, in modern, large scale winemaking, the majority of winemakers with kill off natural occurring yeast (Native Yeast) with a dose of SO2. Sulfur dioxide in extremely small amounts will kill yeasts that are naturally living in the vineyards, on the grapes skins, on the vines, etc. Then they inoculate with a pre-isolated yeast. This has become hugely popular because using native yeast, present in the vineyards can be risky. They might only be able to ferment to 10-14 alcohol by volume, and with higher sugar levels, there’s not a chance that these yeast strains will make it all the way through the fermentation process, so it is much safer for winemakers, making thousands of gallons of wine, to use a single yeast that they know will ferment all the way through.
EXAMPLE: Assmannshausen Yeast…Enhances spicy (clove, nutmeg) and fruit flavors and aromas while adding overall complexity.
Yeast will eat sugars present in a grape, and the result is both alcohol and carbon dioxide. In addition, every strain responds differently with polyphenols, major components in the molecular structure of wine. These components will change slightly during fermentation, some breaking down, others building up, depending on the yeasts characteristic, and these small changes can drastically impact the taste of specific components.
Strains of yeast may be unique to just a small portion of just a single acre of vineyard, and may be found NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD.
There are a few dozen yeast strains used that have been isolated for inoculation. But, maybe only a couple of these are suited to each specific varietal, maybe 4 to 6. Compare this with the MILLIONS of strains of yeasts that are found naturally in vineyards, yeasts that represent the vineyard site in the most fundamental way!
Native Yeast Winemaking
GOOD NEWS: Using native yeast fermentation is making a HUGE comeback. I like to think that winemakers got bored. If a winemaker is using native yeast from a specific vineyard, there is a very good reason. They’ve tested it, and it’s worked really well. They wouldn’t be messing around with it if this were not true. The flavors from these unique yeast strains have to be a great improvement to using inoculated yeast strains, otherwise, back to SO2 and inoculating yeast.THIS MAKES ME VERY HAPPY INSIDE…when looking at high-end productions especially, double check to see if it has been fermented using native yeast or not. If you’re getting into the ultra-premium ($50+) category, they will definitely have it in their winemaking notes if they did use native yeast (it’s a point of pride for winemakers).
In thinking about this topic last night, I looked back over my most profound wine experiences in the last few years. It didn’t take long to figure out that, EVERY…SINGLE….ONE OF THESE WINES had gone through native yeast fermentation. There is a reason they tasted unique, unlike any other wine I had tasted…to the core, they truly were.
AS ALWAYS : If you aren’t currently following THE VINTAGE….ya..just do that.
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