My husband is obsessed with this movie and the theme song. It was his cell phone ring-tone for a while – a long while actually – drove me bonkers. I guess that is why it was the first title that popped into my head when I thought of how to describe Lactobacillus in winemaking. It used to be the bad and in many cases the ugly. If you look at articles on stuck fermentations and wine spoilage from a few years ago, Lactobacillus almost always features somewhere in the article as one of the main culprits. So it is not surprising then that sales attempts to sell Lactobacillus starter cultures for malolactic fermentation are often greeted with GREAT resistance, aggression, jaw dropping, gawking or a call for Security.
Well folks you can pick up your jaws because it seems that there are “good” guys amongst the bad and ugly ones. The two companies that are taking the lead on commercializing some good guys are Oenobrands and Lallemand. The Lallemand culture V22 is a pure Lactobacillus plantarum culture from European origin and can be used for both co-inoculation during alcoholic fermentation as well as sequential inoculation after alcoholic fermentation. The Oenobrands product, marketed under the Anchor brand and called Anchor NT 202 Co-Inoculant, is a blend of selected Oenococcus oeni and Lactobacillus plantarum strains. These strains are South African isolates.
Okay, I know what your minds are screaming…VA! Indeed something to scream about. But not in this case. These two commercial Lactobacillus plantarum cultures are homofermentative. That means they can utilize only malic acid as a carbon source to form mainly lactic acid. Other Lactobacillus strains (often present in spontaneous MLF’s) as well as Oenococcus strains are heterofermentative, meaning they can also utilize grape sugars and citric acid and as a result form acetic acid. However, reputable commercialized Oenococcus oeni MLF starter cultures, although heterofermentative, strongly prefers malic acid as carbon source (they have been selected because of this), even during co-inoculation where grape sugars and citric acid are present in high concentrations. Not all starter cultures are suitable for co-inoculation though.
Okay so why Lactobacillus? In the case of Anchor NT 202 Co-Inoculant the Lactobacillus plantarum in this mixed culture brings aroma and roundness to the party. The Oenococcus is the workhorse bringing, security and speed to the party. The application of NT 202 Co-inoculant is also rather simplistic. You add equal amounts of sachets of bacteria and packets of NT 202 wine yeast to the juice, at the same time, before the onset of fermentation. No waiting for 24 hours. No extra calculations. Scientific research has shown this Lactobacillus plantarum strain to have a very different enzyme profile to Oenococcus oeni in general and as a result the typical varietal character of red grapes, specifically monoterpenes and norisoprenoids, are released from their non-aromatic precursors, thereby increasing wine aroma and thus quality.
So while you still need to do your best to keep the “bads” and the “uglies” out of your wines, experimenting with the “good guys” might just give you that kick @$$ competitive edge you strive to achieve in your wines…