October 5, 2014

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“What Yeast Should I Use?”

The title of this post is one of the most common questions asked by winemakers working with cold-hardy grape cultivars. It is a simple question, but one that doesn’t have an easy answer. I have written on this topic in the past, so let me just throw out something that you probably haven’t heard yet: your yeast choice probably isn’t going to make or break your finished wine. There. I said it. I diminished the importance of yeast choice. To be fair, yeast selection does have an impact on the characteristics of your wine. Poor-quality fruit can be enhanced by choosing the correct yeast, and high-quality fruit can lose some of its potential by choosing the “wrong” yeast. The argument being made here is that your yeast choice isn’t going to make the difference between a wine that is worthy of a gold-medal, and one that is worthy of being poured down the drain.

Frontenac Gris lined up for sensory evaluation

Frontenac Gris in Wine Preference Study

When yeast choice REALLY matters, it’s when the environment in which the yeast will live (the  juice, and eventually fermenting wine) is inhospitable. Very acidic (pH < 3.2) or very high sugar juice are stressful to yeast, as are very hot or very cold temperatures. Certain strains of yeast are more tolerant than others of these harsh conditions. If for example, you harvest Marquette at 25.5 °Brix and hope to make a dry wine, you’d better make sure that the yeast is tolerant to alcohol levels greater than 15%. Making a late harvest or ice wine? You need a yeast with high osmo-tolerence to handle the high sugar environment.  If you plan on using bacteria to convert the malic acid to lactic acid, you’d better make sure that the yeast is compatible with Malolactic Fermentation (MLF). Do you have a cooling system in your winery? If not, then you probably should pick yeast that can tolerate hotter temperatures. If you plan on cold-fermenting the wine (to guard fruity aromas), the yeast should be tolerant of cold temperatures. All of these planning questions help to eliminate the outright poor yeast choices, then you can get into some of the nitty-gritty details.

Sensory effect of yeast choice. After eliminating yeast strains that won’t work with your juice chemistry and fermentation goals, the main concern is the sensory effect of the yeast strain. In general, cultivated yeast strains will produce low amounts of off-aromas (H2S and VA) when given sufficient nutrients. Some yeast can affect the mouthfeel of a wine by producing higher amounts of glycerol. There are yeast strains that produce high amounts of tutti-frutti ester aromas – great for young wines, but for high-end wines that are going to age a year or more before release, there isn’t much of a point in using these strains. Esters are extremely volatile, and are the first aromas to disappear – sometimes within a few hours of opening the bottle! Other yeasts will enhance the aroma by releasing some of the aroma precursors found in the grapes at harvest. This is all well-and-good, but in the end the yeast can’t do much unless the precursors for these aromas are in the grapes themselves. This is where the big question lies with cold-hardy grapes. For the most part, we know very little about the nature of their inherent aromas. We know that La Crescent is related to Muscat, and has some of the same floral and perfume aromas that are found in all Muscats. We know that it does contain high quantities of monoterpenes, the class of aroma compounds that have these flowery characteristics. However, we also know that Marquette contains significant quantities of monoterpenes, although it is rare to see floral descriptors used when tasting Marquette wines.  Frontenac contains  methoxypyrazines when unripe (similar to the green pepper aroma in Cabernet Sauvignon) and minty aromas (methyl salicylate and menthol).[1] As we learn more about the impact aromas of these grape cultivars, it may affect our decisions for yeast selection. You can read about why these particular yeast strains were chosen for this trial in a previous post.

Yeast trial with cold-hardy grapes. Last year, we decided to ferment the four University of Minnesota grape cultivars with various commercial yeast strains. This was a trial that was sponsored by the Northern Grapes Project, and was replicated at Cornell University with fruit from Vermont and New York. Over the past few weeks, I asked a group of 27 people who all have experience tasting regional wine to participate in a wine sensory panel. The panel consisted of 16 men and 11 women, whose ages ranged from 26 to 74 with a median age of 50. They were served three wines from each of the four grape varieties and asked to rank them from their most preferred to their least preferred. The only difference in the three wines was the type of yeast that was used for fermentation, which is highlighted in the chart below.

Frontenac Frontenac Gris Marquette La Crescent
ICV – GRE Lalvin – DV10 ICV – GRE Lalvin – DV10
Lalvin – Rhône 4600® Anchor – Vin13 ICV – D254® Vitilevure – Elixir
ICV – Opale® Anchor – NT 116 Levuline – BRG Cross Evolution®

The panelists were also asked to write comments on each of the wines. Not surprisingly, many of the tasters noted differences between the wines. On several occasions, it was noted that one of the wines was “far superior” to the two others in the flight, with notes such as “most complex” and “most interesting” written in the comments section. I even had one panelist who stated afterwards (when he found out what the trial had entailed) how he is always surprised by how much yeast choice can “make or break” a wine. In the end, we were testing whether there was a difference in preference for these different wines in order to give recommendations to winemakers. So which of the three yeasts for each grape cultivar were preferred by our tasting panel?

Drum roll please….

For each wine flight, the judges scored the wines in order of preference, with 1=most preferred, and 3=least preferred in the flight. We tallied the total points for each wine and the results are in the charts below. A lower score indicates a higher overall preference (more #1 ranks) by the judges. Statistical analysis was done using the Basker Critical Values for Rank Sum.

Sensory Panel

The small letter next to the sum indicated whether the difference seen is statistically significant (p < 0.05). If there is the same letter next to the sum, then there is no statistical difference in the observed count. As you can see, for every single yeast trial, no clear difference in preference was shown for one yeast over another yeast in this particular trial.  We may be able to say that for La Crescent, there is a trend towards a preference for yeasts that release monoterpenes (both Cross Evolution® and Elixir enhance floral characters in aromatic whites), but we would need to recruit a larger panel to see if this holds true.  However, at this point, there isn’t a clear preference for those yeasts over a more neutral yeast (DV10).

We chose the yeasts for this trial based on their ability to work well within the chemistry limitations of our varieties.  The subtle differences in these wines that may have been observed by individual panelists didn’t translate into a difference in preference for one wine over another for the group as a whole. This is just to highlight why yeast choice probably isn’t as critical as one might think. In the end, it’s a decision that a winemaker makes based on his or her own personal preference and wine-style goals. This is part of the art of making wine. In the  future, we hope to also do descriptive analysis of these wines, to see if these differences can be appreciated by a panel of consumers. Descriptive analysis will also help guide winemakers towards understanding how yeast choice may affect the sensory characters of their wine.

Grape Cultivar – Yeast Used in Trial

Rank Sum*

Frontenac – ICV GRE

49 a

Frontenac – ICV OPALE®

50 a

Frontenac – Rhône 4600®

56 a

*For Frontenac we could only used the scores from 26 panelists due to an error on one score card

Grape Cultivar – Yeast Used in Trial

Rank Sum

Marquette – ICV GRE

54 a

Marquette – D254®

54 a

Marquette – ICV BRG

54 a

 

Grape Cultivar – Yeast Used in Trial

Rank Sum

La Crescent – DV10

63 a

La Crescent – Elixir

52 a

La Crescent – Cross Evolution®

47 a

 

Grape Cultivar – Yeast Used in Trial

Rank Sum

Frontenac Gris – DV10

55 a

Frontenac Gris – NT 116

52 a

Frontenac Gris – Vin 13

55 a

 


[1] Pedneault, K. (November, 2012). Canada: Maturity and Quality of Some Hardy Grape Varieties Grown in Quebec. International Conference Neubrandenburg and Vitinord. Neubrandenburg/Szczecin.

 

 

Yeast Selection Trials for Cold-Hardy Grapes*

One of the questions winemakers in northern climates ask most often is what yeast strains are recommended for fermenting various cold-hardy grape cultivars. While I understand why this question is asked – most catalogs selling yeast don’t list ‘Marquette’ or ‘Frontenac’ as recommended cultivars for a particular strain – it is also difficult to give a recommendation based on grape cultivar alone. Variables such as growing conditions of the grapes, winemaking conditions in the cellar, and stylistic goals are all important factors in determining what yeast should be used for making a certain wine. Vintage variation (especially in northern climates) can mean that a certain outcome with a commercial yeast strain one year doesn’t necessarily mean that we will have the same outcome the following year. Yeast can’t enhance the spicy character of Marquette, for example, if the aroma compound(s) responsible for that character aren’t in the grapes when they are harvested. Complicating matters is the fact that we are just beginning to learn what aromatic compounds might be involved in varietal aroma for these grapes!

Development of new yeasts.  Before a new commercial yeast strain is released, it undergoes extensive fermentation trials, from lab-scale to commercial scale and with various grape cultivars, to understand its impact on the wine. These trials require a great deal of costly research in order to be certain that the yeast activity will be fully understood once it is released. Unfortunately, the costs of this research guarantees that more obscure grape cultivars are not typically used in these trials. You are about as likely to see yeast recommendations for Picpoul or Vermentino as you are Marquette or Frontenac Gris. Fortunately, with the assistance of the Northern Grapes Project, researchers in the Midwest and Eastern US will be able to perform small-scale yeast trials this year for our cold-hardy grape cultivars.

Yeast trials.  While we may already have some ideas of how certain yeasts behave with cold-hardy varieties, we have yet to perform a study that includes statistical analysis of sensory data in replicated wine trials. This will allow us to evaluate whether a certain aroma or flavor can be attributed to a difference in yeast, grape cultivar or to the growing conditions. Although we do not fully understand the key aromatic compounds involved in the varietal aroma of cold hardy wines, we are able to build on knowledge gained from studies of of wine aroma and yeast metabolism to make educated yeast and cultivar matches. After several years of trials, we will be able to give confident recommendations for yeast strains to winemakers desiring a certain style wine from their cold-hardy grapes.

Grape aroma vs. Wine aroma.  Wine primary aroma compounds, which are also described as the varietal aroma of grapes, are the key aroma compounds that are used to distinguish wines made from one grape cultivar over another. In the grape berry, they are present in both volatile and non-volatile forms. The term ‘volatile’ simply refers to the fact that these compounds can be found in the headspace above the wine in a glass. In other words, this is what you smell when you stick your nose in a wine glass. Some volatile or ‘free’ aromas that are present in the grape berry are also present in the wines. When this occurs, drinking a wine made from that cultivar may remind you of how the grapes tasted when you picked them ripe off the vine.

However, the grape berries are also full of bound aroma compounds that can’t be tasted when you eat a grape, but are transformed into their free form by the action of yeasts, bacteria, and enzymes over the course of vinification. These bound compounds are often present in much higher quantities than the free volatile compounds, and are also considered an important component of the varietal aroma of wine. This is one of the reasons why the aroma and flavor of a wine is much more complex than the juice from which it was made. Yeast can play a key role in liberating these bound aromatic compounds so that they can contribute to the overall bouquet of a finished wine.[i] Thus, using a compatible yeast when vinifying a certain grape cultivar can help to enhance the varietal aroma of the wine. Some of the most important primary aromas that scientists have identified in grapes, and which yeast play a role in releasing during winemaking, are thiols and monoterpenes.

Thiols.  Volatile thiols are one of the most potent groups of compounds found in wine. Some can impart a negative aroma, while others contribute positively to a wine’s bouquet. They are almost non-existent in grape juice, and tend to only develop during fermentation. In Sauvignon Blanc, they are responsible for the box tree, passion fruit, grapefruit, and guava aromas that give the wine its varietal character. However, they have also been identified in wines made from other grape varieties such as Colombard, Merlot, Riesling, Semillon, and Cabernet Sauvignon. In grape juice, researchers have been able to identify the thiols in their bound form, also called an aroma precursor. Because of this, they have been able to understand the biochemical processes that yeast use to break apart the glycoside bonds with the thiols. Although all yeasts are capable of cleaving these bonds, certain strains of yeast have been shown to be better at it than others. Just as human metabolism varies according to a person’s genetics, so does yeast’s. Those that can efficiently release thiols are typically marketed as yeast that will enhance the varietal aroma of Sauvignon Blanc. This year we will be trialing two strains of yeast that are known thiol-releasers to see how they effect the overall aroma wines made from Frontenac gris. We suspect that perhaps some of the tropical fruit aromas found in wines made from this cultivar could be due to thiols.

Monoterpenes.  The second class of primary aroma compounds released by yeast are monoterpenes. Often simply referred to as terpenes, they are potent aromatic compounds found throughout the plant world. In grapes, they are found in large quantities in aromatic varieties like Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Riesling. Monoterpenes such as geraniol and linalool are often used as a fragrance in everything from soaps to air fresheners due to their rose or rose-like aromas. Other terpenes (cintronellol and nerol) can smell like citrus or lemongrass. Unlike thiols, monoterpenes often exist in a free, or volatile, form that can be detected in the grapes themselves. Nonetheless, a significant portion of monoterpenes found in grapes exist in a non-volatile, bound form. Yeast, bacteria, and enzymes in the grapes themselves are all capable of cleaving glycoside bonds and enhancing the varietal aroma of a wine. Knowing that La Crescent heady floral aromas are similar to a Muscat or Gewurztraminer, one can suspect that monoterpenes play a role in its varietal aroma. Using a commercial yeast strain that is a good terpene releaser can help intensify the primary aromas found in the grape. For our trials with La Crescent this year, we are using two yeast strains intended for aromatic white wine production, but are especially interested in yeast that will help with terpene expression. Vitilevure Elixir and Cross Evolution are two yeasts that we hope will show off the varietal attributes of La Crescent.

Enhancing spicy aromas. Spicy aromas exist in many different grape cultivars, however the chemical basis of these aromas isn’t completely understood. Although the compound responsible for black pepper aromas in Syrah and other cultivars has recently been discovered, researchers are still trying to identify if there is a biological method (yeast) of expressing it in wines.[ii] Nontheless, through sensory analysis of wines fermented with different yeast strains, we know that some are better able to enhance spicy characters than others.We aren’t certain what aromatic compound(s) is(are) involved in that spicy character, but we know that it exists. We know that sometimes Marquette wines can have a spicy character, even though we don’t know what causes it Thus,we will be trialing two yeasts that are known to enhance spice in two different cultivars. The strain D254 has been used in Rhone varietals, whereas the strain BRG has been used successfully in Burgundian varietals to enhance spicy characters. We are hoping that both can be used with success to enhance the varietal aroma of Marquette.

Yeast-derived aroma and flavors.  While we are looking for certain yeasts that may help to express the varietal aroma of cold-climate grapes, yeast also produce a number of aromatic compounds as a by-product of fermentation that will affect overall wine bouquet. Of course, the most important job of yeast is the production of alcohol from sugar. The presence of ethanol is essential to enhance the other sensory attributes of a wine. However, excessive ethanol can mask the aroma and flavors in a wine and give the wine an overall impression of “hotness” that is undesirable. While there are many important yeast by-products that contribute to the overall aroma and flavor of wines (fusel alcohols, glycerol, sulfides, volatile phenols, succinic acid, acetic acid…), perhaps the most important aromatic compound to consider when selecting a commercial yeast strain is its ability to synthesize esters. The esters produced by yeast will contribute to the fruity and floral aroma of a wine. These compounds can have aromas ranging from pear drops to flowers, honey, and bananas. Often they are used in the food industry to give artificial fruit flavors to candies.

Esters characterize young wine aroma.  While ester producing yeast strains aren’t typically associated with enhancing the varietal aroma of a wine, it has been shown that their production can be influenced by grape variety. For example, in Pinot Noir wines, the characteristic fruity aromas of plum, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant and blackberry characters were shown to be influenced by esters. These esters are synthesized by the yeast, but from aroma precursors found in the grape berry.[iii] Nonetheless, these compounds are some of the first to disappear during wine aging. The fruity and banana aromas that you smell in the winery during fermentation are typically associated with esters which disappear quickly in finished wine.. Mixed yeast cultures containing non-Saccharomyces yeast can also have a positive impact on the production of esters in wine. If a winemaker wishes to guard these aromas in a wine, they should be sure to ferment the wine cold and limit oxygen uptake. Ester-producing yeast strains should typically be used only if the wines are meant to be bottled and consumed while they are still young. In years where poor growing conditions (rot or botrytis) make it difficult to get fruity aromas from the grapes themselves, esters from yeasts may help make up for lack of varietal character. There is also some market demand for wines with this fruity aromatic profile. We will be using two high-ester producing yeasts in trials with Frontenac this year: Rhone 4600 and ICV Opale.

Selecting a yeast.  Think of yeast as one tool in your toolkit to help direct a wine to what you want it to be. The first step a winemaker needs to take when deciding what yeast to use is to determine the stylistic goal he or she has in mind for a wine. Is it going to be fresh and fruity with some residual sugar, or will the wine undergo a significant aging period in new oak and made into a dry wine? Perhaps you are making wines in both those styles. You probably wouldn’t want to use the same yeast for both of those wines. A wine that is meant to be fresh, young, and fruity should probably be fermented with yeast that will add some fruity esters to the wine. However, if you put that wine into a barrel, those ester aromas will quickly disappear due to their high volatility. You are better off trying to get the most fruit flavor out of the grapes themselves by using yeast that enhances varietal character.

Vineyard environment.  Sometimes the stylistic goal the winemaker has in mind may not even be possible depending on growing conditions of the grapes. In a warm year, if the Brix is greater than 25, yeast that only tolerate 14% alcohol should not be used (assuming you want a dry wine). We battle with high acidity in all our wines, but growers in the most extreme growing regions of the north may have to face the fact that their grapes may have too much acid to ever turn them into a palatable dry wine. This may also be true in short growing seasons where it is difficult to get the acid numbers down prior to harvest. Sometimes trying to force a wine to be something that it is not is a sure way to end up with a mediocre wine. It is important to remain realistic and understand that no matter how hard you try, you probably will never be able to make a “big” Bordeaux-style wine from Marquette or Frontenac.

Winemaking environment.  Winemaking conditions are also important. While Saccharomyces yeast tolerate  the harsh conditions in grape juice and wine, each strain has their own special range of ideal conditions for growth. The yeast cell wall is made up of fatty acids in a lipid bilayer. Think of it as a layer of oil. Just as some fats react differently to extreme temperature changes, so does this lipid bilayer surrounding the yeast cell. Really cold temperatures can make it stiff and hard to move, while really hot temperatures make it thin and runny. The yeast cell wall  is also sensitive to alcohol and osmotic pressure. The cell wall needs to transport nutrients into the cell and export waste products out of the cell, and both can make it difficult for the yeast to do so. The sugar concentration of the  juice ormust can make it difficult for the cell to get rid of waste, as it’s pushing against the osmotic pressure of the solution against its cell wall. A buildup of waste inside the cell will lead to cell death. Also, each strain of yeast varies in how efficiently it uses nutrients. Although all winemakers should be checking the YAN levels of their juice or must, this becomes even more important when using a yeast strain that has higher nutrient needs.

In the end, selection of a commercial yeast strain can have a significant impact on your finished wine.  Yeast can play an important role in ensuring that a fermentation finishes clean and dry with a predictable outcome to a wine, which is crucial to successfully marketing cold-hardy cultivars.

*This article was published in the Nothern Grapes Project newsletter on August 17th, 2012


[i] A. Zalacain, J. Marín, G.L. Alonso, M.R. Salinas. 15 March 2007. Analysis of wine primary aroma compounds by stir bar sorptive extraction, Talanta 71:4, 1610-1615

[ii] Logan, Gerard. University of Auckland, New Zealand. 5 August 2012. Personal communication

[iii] Moio, L. and Etievant, P.X. (1995) Ethyl anthranilate, ethyl cinnamate, 2,3-dihydrocinnamate, and methyl anthranilate – 4 important odorants identified in Pinot Noir wines of Burgundy. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture. 46, 392-398


 

Frontenac Gris Rosé

I realize I am WAY behind in updating this blog. I will try to remedy this in the coming weeks.

I have a lot to write about, as we recently finished our tasting evaluations of our 2011 wines. Although the majority of the wines we evaluated are Minnesota selections that haven’t been released, we were also able to do some evaluations of our trials with Minnesota cultivars. Today I’ll talk about one of our trials: Frontenac gris rosé.

There are two methods one can employ to make a rosé wine. The first, which I mentioned in my Marquette vinification trial post last year, is the saignee method or “tank bleeding.” Essentially you fill your tank with red grapes, and do a cold soak for anywhere between 6 and 24 hours. This allows time for some of the color from the skin of the grapes to seep into the colorless juice. The longer you let them soak, the darker the color. After the desired soaking time has passed, you open the racking valve at the bottom of your tank (with a hose attached, of course), and pump 5-10% of the volume of your tank into another tank. Then, you ferment your red grapes to make a red wine, and your saignee juice is fermented as a rosé. Of course, this method is typically employed with Vitis vinifera grapes, of which most have colorless  pulp. Most of our hybrid grapes have colored pulp and skin, so this maceration step is unnecessary if you wish to make a rosé from Frontenac or Marquette. Often the problem with Frontenac rosé especially is that its color is more of a claret rather than a rosé – even without any skin contact!

So that brings me to the second method of making a rosé. The French would argue that this is the only way to make a rosé (unless you’re in Champagne). It’s the direct press method. This how I would recommend rosé made from Frontenac or Marquette should be done. With the saignee method, it may be difficult to achieve a lighter-colored wine. With the direct-press method you essentially treat the red grapes as if they were white grapes.  You press the grapes right after harvest and can crush/de-stem, or press them whole-cluster. If you whole-cluster press you may be able to achieve a lighter color because of adsorption of anthocyanins to the stems.  Of course if you were using Vitis vinifera like they do in Provence, you would need a short maceration time to achieve some color extraction. Traditionally, the grapes would be crushed, de-stemmed, and macerated for a short period of time. Maceration often takes place directly in press.

Although I mentioned Frontenac and Marquette as two red grapes that can be used to make a rosé, there is a third option: Frontenac Gris. Frontenac Gris does not contain anthocyanins (red pigments) in the pulp like Frontenac. However, it still retains some red color in the skin. If you press the grapes immediately after harvest, it yields a gold to amber-colored juice. But, if you allow a certain amount of skin contact (or if you over-extract during pressing), you can extract some of the color from the skins. Thus, it is really the only grape we have that can be handled as one would handle V. vinifera when making a rosé.

Knowing that Frontenac Gris isn’t as highly colored as a red grape, our skin contact time needed to be longer than the 6-24 hours traditionally needed for making a rosé from red (vinifera) grapes. We decided to do two trials: a 3-day pre-fermentation maceration, and a second where we actually fermented the grapes on the skins. We already knew that fermenting Frontenac Gris on the skins (when we made a FG port last year) gave us a really pretty dark pink wine, so I wasn’t too worried about too much color. The idea was to see what we could achieve with maximum anthocyanin extraction during alcoholic fermentation. It’s important to remember that a certain percentage of color will be lost immediately after fermentation. Another percentage is lost with sulfur addition. So, if the color of your wine doesn’t resemble the color of your juice, then this is why.

So here’s a picture of the color difference between our two trials. See if you can pick out which was a 3-day cold soak prior to fermentation and which was fermented on the skins:

If you couldn’t figure it out, the wine on the left was macerated (cold soaked) on the skins for 3 days, while the wine on the right had a 3-day cold soak plus spent a week on the skins during alcoholic fermentation. While the color from a photograph isn’t always indicative of what it looks like in real life, it gives you a good indication of the final color difference in the wines. The 3-day cold soak was more of an orange/salmon color. It wasn’t exactly rosé, but it wasn’t terribly unattractive either. It all depends on what the winemaker is looking for in their final color.

While Frontenac Gris doesn’t have anthocyanins in the pulp, there still tends to be a high amount of other colored molecules. I think the high quantities of these yellow/gold pigments mixed with a small amount of red yielded a wine that had more of an orange/salmon color.

Another great thing about using Frontenac Gris to make a rosé wine is that there are almost no tannins in the grape, thus by fermenting on the skins you don’t extract heavy amounts of tannins. Nonetheless, there can be bitter and herbaceous elements that are extracted from the seeds, or from the skin of fruit that is underripe.

Here’s the breakdown of the chemistry in the finished wine

TA  (g/L )                  pH                  Alc. %

Frontenac Gris – AF on skin

            9.20

            3.50

       15.4

Frontenac Gris – 3-day

          10.45

            3.41

       15.4

An interesting note from the fermentation on skins is the decrease in total acidity and the increase in pH. This could be due to some excess potassium extracted from the skins that may have facilitated tartrate precipitation as well as increasing the pH. Since we didn’t measure potassium, this is only a guess. However, the final chemistry of the two wines is pretty close.

As for how the wines taste, I’ll leave you with some of the tasting notes from our evaluation. The wines were tasted blind by our viticulture and enology crew.  Both of these wines were fermented to dryness and no adjustments were made post-fermentation. This was to ensure that they followed our standard protocol for winemaking. Some slight adjustments to the acidity or sweetness may have yielded wines that were a bit more balanced on the palate. You can see that there was some herbaceous character noted in the grapes fermented on the skins. Some tasters found it off-putting, while others enjoyed it. It is also possible that some fining could help remove some of these bitter compounds. In the end, I hope this trial at least gives you some tools to use in your own wineriess.  Cheers to some tasty rosé wines… just in time for summer!

 

Color (3-day cold soak pre-fermentation) salmon/orange
Aroma white chocolate, apricot, fruity, red fruit, artificial cherry, strawberry, berry, banana, hybrid, plum, soapy, some bakers spice, dried apricot, concentrated raisin, petrol/chemical
Palate acid, good citrus/peach flavors, some bitterness, tart, hot, different, red fruit, tart, berry, nutty, sour, peachy, berry, cloves

 

Color (Fermented on skins) dark pink, vibrant red, rose, pretty garnet
Aroma cherry, oregano, more riparia, lots of red hybrid, Frontenac flavors, herbaceous, blackberry, camphor, green pepper, cherry Robitussin, raspberry, cherry
Palate acid, hot, chemical, cherry, bitter, takes on more hybrid flavors, blackberry, black currant, herbaceous, thin, hybrid, underripe, red currants, cherry, plum, chokecherry, some bitterness, hot, cherry, raspberry, spice

 

 

Passito… or Essencia?


Here is an update on my attempt to make a passito from Frontenac Gris…

After about 2 weeks of drying in the  greenhouse, the grapes had lost about 50% of their moisture. I decided to press them at this point, not knowing how well our tiny little hydropress would do with raisins! I had close to 10 kg of grapes (ahem, raisins) that I pressed, and got about 2.5 liters of “juice” from them (the consistency was more like syrup). I think a commercial press that went through a long series of slowly increasing the pressure might have gotten a bit better yield, but I was happy with what I got. The resulting juice/syrup was a deep amber to brown color. There was a slight copper tinge to it. We’ll see what the color is like after fermentation.

Now on to the most spectacular result…

At just 50% dehydration, I didn’t know what to expect for sugar numbers (I think typical passito is dried a bit further). However, I think I didn’t need to dry them out quite as much! The extracted grapes had a sugar concentration of 55 °Brix! That’s INCREDIBLY sweet! That’s the equivalent of almost 700 g/L (70%) of sugar. Coca-cola contains about 111 g/L of sugar. Maple Syrup contains 800-900 g/L of sugar. So… you can imagine how sweet this really is! The good news is that the Total acidity came in at 15.5 g/L, so I’m hoping that this will help balance the finished wine.

The problem with a wine containing 70% sugar is that the osmotic pressure is too great for most yeast to undergo fermentation. They find it difficult to transport waste across their cell membrane, so they die. There is one wine that I know of with an equivalent sugar content to what we achieved with this Frontenac Gris: Tokaji Essencia. This is a legendary Hungarian wine made from the juice that drips from dried, botyritis-infected berries. So, essentially, the free-run from botryitised raisins (if that makes sense). It has been known to reach 85% sugar in some years, but normally ranges from 50-70%. The other interesting thing about Essencia is that it can take 6-8 YEARS to ferment, and only obtains up to about 6% alcohol.

So, since I didn’t want to wait years to see what the final wine will taste like, nor did I want a wine with only 6% alcohol, I decided to add back a little bit of water to my Frontenac Gris. I brought it down to a still very respectable 45 Brix.

I started fermentation using a modified  pied de cuve method. I re-hydrated the yeast as one would normally do, but I used a larger quantity of water (I used 600 mL – the quantity I needed to dilute the wine to 45 brix). Then, I slowly added the syrupy goodness of the juice over a period of 24 hours. This allowed the yeast to slowly acclimate to their new (very harsh) environment, and ensured that my initial population of yeast was high. I used DV10 yeast because I know it’s pretty resistant (and it was on-hand). I would have preferred to use a yeast that is specifically made for ice wine/late harvest, but didn’t feel justified in ordering a whole package of yeast for this small quantity of wine. It seems to be fermenting nicely, regardless. I wonder how long it will take to finish… I’m excited to try it!

Passito, Straw Wine, Raisin Wine…

In Minnesota we are blessed with grapes that naturally are high in acid and high in sugar. To say this is a blessing may come as a surprise to those of you with lots of experience working with varieties like Frontenac, Frontenac gris, and La Crescent, you may think that the ‘harvest numbers’ we get are a bit of a curse. Especially in vintages like 2009, where it wasn’t uncommon to see total acidity rise to above 1.5% at harvest!

I get many questions emailed to me asking what can be done to lower the acidity or lower the potential alcohol after grapes were picked. Of course, a wine with 16-18% alcohol and more than 1.0% total acidity is really only a problem if you plan on fermenting the wine to dryness. Like many in the state have discovered, making an off-dry to sweet wine works really well when trying to balance a high-acid must. Frontenac (and Frontenac Gris, I might add), make an excellent fortified, port-style wine. It’s also been made very successfully into an off-dry rosé wine. While several wineries also do a good job making Frontenac into a dry red, it requires a lot more patience and experience, and often a lot of luck from mother nature.

This year she wasn’t so kind to us, either. The record-setting snowfall from last winter kept spring at bay well into May, meaning we had a very late bud-burst. Most vines weren’t flowering until mid-June, and véraison occurred at the beginning of August! That left precious little time for the grapes to ripen before much of the state was hit with an early frost in mid-September. Those who were lucky enough to not have their vineyards damaged were blessed with above-average temperatures in October. However, much of the fruit became overripe with the heat while growers were waiting for acids to drop. If we look back even further on the timeline of weather patterns, many of the vineyards bore heavy crop loads this year in response to 2010′s poor crop (due to the Mother’s Day frost – which destroyed flowers on many vines).

If you’ve completely given up on making wine in Minnesota after two crazy growing years, don’t panic quite yet. I’ve always been a fan of working with a particular grape’s chemistry rather than against it. Our grapes carry excellent chemistry for late-harvest or dessert wines in almost every growing season.

One particular technique I’m pretty excited about trying with our fruit is a passito type of wine. There are several wine regions around the world who use the technique of partially drying grapes prior to pressing them in order to concentrate the sugars. One of the most famous is Amarone, but several other types of wines exist in Italy that are a variation of this technique. Vin Santo, Recioto, and Torcolato are all wines that are essentially made from raisins. In France they make a Vin de Paille (literally Straw wine) in which the grapes are left to dry on straw mats until they are raisins. Even the Pédro Ximenez grape that is famous in Sherry will go through a process of drying before pressing and fermenting the grapes.

The method of drying the grapes varies from region to region. In Italy grapes intended for Vin Santo are hung from the rafters for several weeks or months. In Spain, the Pédro Ximenez grapes are laid out in the sun. In France and Germany, they are placed on trays often lined with straw (at least traditionally). Whatever drying method is employed, the goal is the same.

We had three vines of Frontenac Gris that were left over from a graduate student’s project that we decided would be perfect to use in this technique. Originally, the idea was to leave the grapes hanging on the vine until they turned to raisins, but mother nature hasn’t cooperated. So, today we picked the grapes, and utilized empty space in the greenhouse. An industrial-sized fan blowing across the tray of grapes will help to ensure that we minimize insect problems and mold during the drying process.

Let’s hope we end up with something luscious and tasty! I’ll keep you posted!

***UPDATE***