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Corley Family Napa Valley

Chris Corley
September 18, 2008 | Crush ! | Chris Corley

FERMENTATION CHECK : The Natives are Getting Restless

Posted By : Chris Corley

NOTE : We spend a lot of our time doing Fermentation Checks each day during harvest. As it relates to our blog, ‘FERMENTATION CHECK’ will be an opportunity for us to share our cellar activities with you in real time.


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One of the ironies of growing grapes and making wine is that while we control so many minute details of the process from budbreak to bottle, we are still dependent on natural occurences that are largely out of our realm of control. For example, we can farm our vineyards with meticulous care each season, yet a few ill-timed heat spikes and a drizzle could dictate whether or not all that hard work will result in an excellent vintage or not. Sometimes we choose to use these natural occurences to our benefit, understanding that the risk that we take may lead us to an even tastier or better wine. This is another layer of irony, in the sense that one of our conscious winemaking decisions is to leave it entirely up to nature.

This is the case with Wild (or Native) Yeast fermentations, which we will be utilizing this year with some of our select Chardonnay lots. Essentially, after a whole growing season of carefully cultivating our vines, individually selecting the vines for each lot, and carefully sorting through the fruit on the crush pad after the pick - we pump the pressed juice into our barrels and then cross our fingers ... literally.

Most of the time its several days until the native yeasts begin to ferment. I must say it is somewhat comforting (and humbling) to me that even with all of our investment in equipment and winemaking experimentation over the last 28 years, that the quality of our product is still inherently tied to a single-celled organism - that spends its summers in our vineyard and winters in the cellar.

The Native Yeasts are begininning to get restless this year ! The Chardonnay lots we pumped to barrel 4-5 days ago are now singing that beautiful refrain of fermentation, and the sweet smells of tropical fruit are filling the headspaces of the barrels. Native Yeast fermentations are typically slower and longer than inoculated ferments, and we think are usually conducted by several strains over the course of the fermentation. They usually lead to more complexity in the finished wine and a slightly higher anxiety level in the winemaker as they struggle to get started.

We've utilized Wild Yeast fermentations in select lots of our Chardonnays and some vintages of Pinot Noir all the way back to the mid 1990s, and bottled our first 100% Wild Yeast Chardonnay in 1994. It was a beautiful wine. Over the years, the percentages of Wild Yeast fermentations that we've employed with our Chardonnay has varied, largely dependent on vintage, condition of fruit, and the winemaker's state of mind. This year, we may play around with some Wild Yeast fermentations in some of our other varietals, possibly Syrah and Cabernet Franc.

All that being said, it's comforting to me that I'm not the only one this time of year that's getting restless !


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