What really is terroir? Wikipedia says the following: From (terre), is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products such as Wine, Chocolate, Hops, Tomatoes, Heritage Wheat and Tea. That’s a mouth full don’t you think?
Now you thought I was going to write another blog on terroir didn’t you? But this is about something else, or at least I think it is.
Where does the flavor of a wine ultimately come from? Is it all terroir, of course not. Is it oak barrels and the hundreds of combinations from cooper to cooper? Is it the introduction of Water, Acid, inoculations, or chemicals of all kind. Sorry, not enough room to include them all as they exceed over a hundred different additives. What about metal like copper?
So you see beyond the holy word terroir there is a huge influence on many wines and they are not all complimentary. I would like to isolate one and only one influence, yeast.
Yeast is the engine that makes juice into wines. Its influence goes way beyond eating sugar and producing alcohol, a crude definition but accurate. You see yeast has flavor, much flavor. Its addition to the wine cannot be underestimated. Now here’s a misconception I hear all the time from prominent wine makers. The native yeast adds flavor to the wine, and the cultivated yeast is just to make sure the wine finishes. Nothing scares a wine maker more than a stuck fermentation
The belief that using two different yeast, native and otherwise adds an added dimension is False, False and False! Sorry, got carried away. The strongest yeast wins Period! So if you use cultivated yeast then your wine will carry that attribute and you cannot run from it, explain it away or make up new science for why? Let’s be clear, sometimes this is a good thing for those who are trying to stay with a flavor profile that works for them. I’m guessing that if your customers expect a certain profile in terms of the nose and palate than this system works for you. However to say your wine is terroir driven year in and year out because they taste somewhat similar and your using cultivated yeast, well that’s Bunk, or your just misguided. Yes, making terroir from a particular strain of yeast is called magic terroir, or a lot of hocus-pocus!
The biggest reason for cultivated yeast is wine makers pick way too late, and native yeast will not finish the fermentation as the yeast will die before finished. It’s safer, and it’s easier, but it destroys all the things that would be considered terroir. In the end you can taste the difference. Why, because most of the time, the wines are over ripe. There are exceptions of course if house style is your goal, however when over ripe you need to add Acid, tartaric acid, that leaves a gumminess on the palate. There are many cultivated yeasts and they carry specific flavors that are almost advertised and well known. For me I see zero reason why anyone wants to invest a huge amount of capital to plant a great vineyard, then make a wine that taste just like the guys across town that has a vineyard planted with much less care, with wrong root stocks, wrong clones, wrong spacing, well you get where I’m going.
I say make wines that are unique to your Vineyard, to your place, to whom you are!
Strongest is not always best!