You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Twilight Zone.
As a child, my favourite show was “The Twilight Zone”. It was an imaginative place, filled with uncertainty, adventure, terror and discovery. While these elements will keep any youngster nailed to his seat, a winemaker should tread lightly when entering “The Twilight Zone”.
Wine yeast companies usually offer broad ranges of yeast and bacteria, with bio-converters for every wine style or grape variety imaginable. There is a downside to this myriad of yeasts… Winemakers sometimes avoid browsing through pages of technical hoopla, allowing themselves instead to be guided through the fermentation process and beyond by some vague, intuitive notion. I am all for adventure and discovery, but tend to shy away from uncertainty and terror. Be that as it may, some winemakers wittingly step into “The Twilight Zone”. Here are some examples of lesser known (and sometimes risky) fermentation techniques.
Yeast rehydration is a critical process that paves the way for a successful ferment. However, I know a winemaker who never does this for his barrel fermented Chardonnay. He simply adds the powdered yeast to the must by pouring it directly into the bunghole. His rationale behind this is a very steady and gentle onset of fermentation! Might I add that I rate his Chardonnay as one of the best I’ve tasted. I know another winemaker who adds un-rehydrated dry yeast to his freshly crushed grapes. He said that the action of the pump does a good job of dispersing the microbes into the must. I’ve also heard of a winemaker who rehydrates his yeast in warm must (how would one heat up a bucket of must?) and guess what? According to him he has not experienced problems until this year! Yeah, if you believe that…
In the olden days (realise that the past forms an integral part of “The Twilight Zone”), winemakers lacked the technology that we have today. Cooling down fermenting must during 1930 to 1950 presented a major challenge. One questionable technique included running must in the channels and gutters between tanks and blowing air over it with a fan, before pumping it back into a fermentation tank.
Finally, as a farewell to our foray into “The Twilight Zone” of fermentation, I once did a tour of a private cellar in Germany. The winemaker, in a desperate attempt to get his stuck tanks to start fermenting, scraped the mouldy walls and inoculated the tanks with the centuries old yeasts and fungi. The resulting wine tasted like a horse had a bath in it. Scary isn’t it?
Bernard Mocke is a Technical Consultant for Anchor Wine Yeast.