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Ehlers Estate

Adam Casto
February 21, 2024 | Adam Casto

Key Criteria for Selecting Yeast in Wine Fermentation

Winemakers meticulously select the yeast for their wine fermentation based on several carefully considered criteria, tailored to ensure that each bottle delivers the perfect symphony of taste and aroma.

So, what are some of the essential criteria that winemakers look for when selecting yeasts? Let's take a deeper dive:

1. Cell Wall Strength: Because red wines are generally fermented with the whole fruit, or “on-skins”, it involves a higher solids environment, making them more challenging for our microscopic yeast friends. This scenario calls for a yeast strain with stronger cell walls, while still allowing effective nutrient transport, to withstand these difficult conditions, a major factor in red wine yeast selection.

2. Thiol and Esther Production: Yeasts for white wines are often selected for their tendency to produce an abundance of aromatic compounds called thiols and esters. For instance, Riesling, known as a thiol type, is often fermented with yeasts from the Alsace, Mosel and Rhone regions, celebrated for their high thiol production. 

3. Temperature, Alcohol, and pH Tolerance: Red wine fermentation usually involves higher temperature and alcohol levels than do most whites. How a particular yeast will respond to temperature manipulations and extremes can have significant implications for potential wine style, so careful consideration is required. A yeast may produce ideal aromatic or textural qualities, but might get ruled out if it cannot thrive in the appropriate alcohol or temperature parameters.

4. Nutrient requirements and byproduct: For winemaking, saccharomyces cerevisiae have been isolated and selectively bred mostly for their ability to consistently convert sugars into alcohol in a fairly wide range of chemical and environmental conditions. In addition to ethanol, these yeasts can produce over 250 volatile metabolites, most of which contribute to the overall organoleptic profile of a wine and effectively form the fingerprint of the selected yeast strain, but not always for the better. Hydrogen Sulfide and Acetic Acid are two of the more common problematic byproducts that can form as a response to adverse circumstances such as insufficient or excessive oxygen and other nutrient resources, as well as stressors like severe heat or cold, and competition from other microorganisms. Each yeast has particular genetic traits that modulate their behavioral attributes for these and many more compounds, and critically inform the selection process. 

Here’s a fun fact: All the yeasts we use have their origins traced back to Old World regions. These yeast strains have been isolated in a lab and undergone a rigorous selection process to produce desirable iterations of a selected variety.

The selection of yeast is crucial, as it influences the wine's fermentation and final profile. The right yeast helps to orchestrate the balance of flavors and aromas, allowing winemakers to produce complex and memorable wines. The mastery over this minute yet vital ingredient is what helps transform grapes into vintage masterpieces.

For more enlightening insights in the world of wines, keep following our blog!


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