Keeping Yeast in Suspense
We're fermenting some of our Chardonnay lots with Wild Yeast this year. These native fermentations typically are slower, longer and a little more nerve-racking for the winemaker than fermentations which are conducted with isolated commercial yeast strains.
Our Block 1 Heirloom Clone Chardonnay is nearing the end of its fermentation, so our lab dude Mark is regularly checking each individual barrel to confirm its status. Some of the barrels still have a little more sugar to be fermented, and the lots are cooling down.
As the fermentation tails off, less CO2 gas is produced so the yeast start to slowly sink to the bottom of the barrel. It's important for us to keep the yeast floating in the juice. If all the yeast is at the bottom of the barrel, they can't very easily ferment the juice that is near the top of the barrel!
Over the years, we've tried all manner of techniques to keep the yeast in suspense - from playing Alfred Hitchcock theme music in the cellar at night to starting jokes in the barrel room and then not giving up the punchline. In the end, we figured out that the best way is simply to stir the barrels.
Usually the Wild Yeast has the last laugh as it keeps us in suspense right up until the end. While we are excited about the excellent aromatic complexity and killer flavors up to this point - until the wine is completely dry and settled down after harvest, we won't know what we've got ...