Ever wondered what goes into the launch of a new yeast strain? Well the answer is lots of research that costs lots of money, laboratory scale winemaking, small scale winemaking and then finally commercial trials. These commercial trials are usually done with a commercial production of the yeast, i.e. active dried yeast. Commercial trials happen in wineries off course, with winemakers conducting them and not researchers in a controlled environment. So one has to rely on these winemakers to follow your instructions precisely and fill in the required evaluation forms afterwards. OK so this is how it goes…

You phone a few winemakers. You ask if they are interested in a trial. They indicate they are. You lay the ground rules: same juice in two tanks, one tank inoculated with a control yeast of choice and one the experimental yeast. All juice analyses required beforehand and final wine analyses required afterwards. Fermentation graphs must be supplied as well as tasting notes and samples for the researchers or manufacturing company to taste. All willing winemakers agree to this. You give the yeast – for free off course.

After the harvest, this is what you get:

• Group A, the smallest group of winemakers, actually did what you asked
• Group B used the yeast, did everything you asked, except keep a control
• Group C used the yeast, kept no control, filled in no forms but managed at least to present a fermentation chart
• Group D used the yeast, no control, usually do have a fermentation chart, did not taste the wine and already blended it with something else
• Group E used the yeast, but has no record of where
• Group F did not use the yeast – it is still sitting in the store

And last but not the least a new group that materialised the last time I did trials actually used the yeast, kept a control but the cooling broke in the middle of a heat wave and both white wine tanks fermented at about 30°C. I am happy to report that the experimental yeast faired as badly as the control yeast and not worse.

So, commercial trials are, to say the least, quite challenging. The idea is to hand out enough yeast so that a critical mass can be obtained in Group A.  And don’t think selecting a different group of winemakers next time round gives you any different statistics. Nope, this is how it is.