If you don’t make bread, beer or wine, you probably think of yeast as something slightly icky. But for those of us who depend on it for the outcome of our products, yeast is a beautiful thing. And we’re always looking to use the best. UC Davis, one of the world’s foremost centers of winemaking expertise, has formulated yeasts that are perfectly tuned to the grape varietal and that work consistently and effectively.
But Cousin John, who helped us with the Cabernet crush, is all about the natural yeasts. To the uninitiated, that means the stuff that floats in the air, develops on fruit and lives on your skin. Doesn’t matter to him. He took the crushed grapes we gave him, plunged his hands into it, let it sit in the air for a bit and now he’s letting the natural critters do their thing.
Actually all this is happening side-by-side on our crushpad. So it’s a bit of an experiment. Experiment? No, think culture clash. Think gang warfare.
See while our yeasts were earning letter jackets, taking Advanced Calculus and getting college degrees, his yeasts were smoking in the boy’s room, riding motorcycles and robbing liquor stores. There’s a fermentation face-off happening right at Two Terrier Vineyards. Who will win? The Chi Omega House or the Greasers?
You might be tempted to bet on the guys with the credentials. A college education from a top university means something, right? Well, not always as we learned for eight years. And there’s something to be said for the tenacity developed at the School of Hard Knocks. In this instance, the latter case appears to be true. Cousin John’s Cabernet is bubbling furiously, while ours is just tentatively starting fermentation. But we’ve got big vats compared to Cousin John’s little bin. So our boys are producing more heat and condensation. (Wait, the College Boys are producing more hot air? Guess, that’s not a bragging point.)
I’m still betting the College Boys will surge ahead tomorrow when fermentation is established enough for me to start taking readings of Specific Gravity, pH and other measurements.
Meanwhile, I’ve been kidding Cousin John about his delinquent yeasts. And he’s been taking umbrage. In my last post, he commented that I should be “kinder to our local yeasts” and even name them, as every other critter at Two Terrier Vineyards gets named. Of course, I ran through the list of hood, delinquent and greaser names from movies and TV: Vinnie, Spike, Riff, Tony…
Then I suddenly had a thought. These “local yeasts” that Cousin John is relying on, they could also be called “native” yeasts. Native as in Native American? As in Chief Solano, the fearsome 7 foot tall Suisune war chief from early 1800s Sonoma? If Cousin John has that kind of yeast, my College Boy yeasts don’t stand a chance. And what if my College Boys aren’t lettermen, but bespectacled science geeks? Cousin John’s warrior yeasts are going to be kicking their nerdy butts all over the crushpad!
After two previous harvests, crushes and fermentations, I thought I was getting sick of it all. Now winemaking has just gotten interesting again.