Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Yeast. The amateur winemaker rejoices, bemoans, or ignores the plethora of strains at their disposal. Meanwhile, rich wineries can charge more after paying labs to culture yeasts for each wine. Others use one yeast for all their wines because, lazily, it works. Some do not even bother, letting wild yeasts on the grapes, equipment and personnel do the job.
Nevertheless, picking a yeast makes or breaks a wine. They are finicky. Each has a limited range of survival: shutting down when the temperature, alcohol or acidity get too high or low, or when food and oxygen run out. They do more than convert sugars into alcohol, they turn oxygen into CO2, convert acids from harsher to softer forms, and create flavor compounds that make wine taste anywhere from bananas to barnyards.
Bored with my easy results from using EC-1118 and Montrachet, I search out a yeast that will keep the lovely nose, not overdo the high fruits, hold the acid and stop fermenting sweetness when I tell it to, like a good dog.
I scour the internet. Cupid’s arrow flies fastest from a yeast formerly known as Epernay II. Now fancifully called Côtes des Blancs (much as my Ravat 51 lost its numeration), this yeast comes from Red Star labs.
Unlike many, this yeast actually came from a French grape cultivar. They claim it is “ideal for all high quality white wines with intense varietal expression such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Moscato” and, maybe vignoles. Promises like “optimum aromatic expression” of “very fine fruity aromas” sound nice. Who can argue with “low production of foam”? I hate foam (and this is not sherry). Or “very low volatile acidity and sulphur compound production with an adapted nitrogen contribution (balanced addition of organic and mineral nitrogen)”? Sounds yummy. So I try to wake my new yeasties:
What I really like about Côtes des Blancs is that it should be “very sensitive to sudden changes in fermentation temperature (cold shock)…used when winemakers intend to leave some residual sugar in a wine.” This means, I can stop fermenting and keep natural sweetness without playing the white zinfandel game of adding juice, or worse…sugar…at the end. All I have to do is drop my seven gallons below 50F. Somehow.
Hours pass but still, my yeasts sleep. I give in:
With lid capped, I return to the net to further investigate my yeasts.
Shock and horror!
I have an evil twin. Already by September, he had used the same grape, vintage, Finger Lakes local and even the same yeast. Worse, he’s funnier than me, has a beard and a more clever web address by far. Am I that predictable? Is wine inevitably that redundant and homogeneous? Probably. But no matter. I will overcompensate with greater media savvy and OCD levels of documentation…
Take that internet blogging man! Although having vanquished my online bearded foe, I still cannot sleep. My yeasts will not start. Sure his Côtes des Blancs took days to wake but my packet of flesh-toned powder is better.
Worn by this passive-aggressive battle of wits, I collapse. My dead yeasts are on their own until morning.