December 5, 2016

Taking the Mystery Out of Wine Yeast Selection

Nick Smith, Enologist, University of Minnesota

I get asked a lot of questions from winemakers. I like questions; it means that winemakers are thinking about their wine. Questions also improve and enhance my knowledge and understanding of winemaking, so please keep them coming.

One question, however, gets asked more than any. It is not about grapes, analysis, or equipment. Nope. It is all about the yeast.

For whatever reason, yeast selection causes untold anxiety in many winemakers. Asking me for help probably does not bring much relief because no magic bullet yeast strain exists. I cannot tell a winemaker to use XYZ yeast and wait for a 90 point rating from a wine magazine.

However, I understand the concern about yeast. Yeast companies and their distributors print beautiful catalogs loaded with yeast strains. Testimonials from highly regarded winemakers tout the nuances of Yeast A over Yeast B and how they owe their 98 point wine to the strain.

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  1. Just wanted to throw in my two cents. Yes, the metabolic reactions of the yeast you use is the most important reaction occurring in the must. But their are also molecules already present in the wine must, molecules from grape solids during fermentation, those derived from metabolisms, even from wood. The temperature and amount of oxygen dissolved can have a significant on these “other reactions” and therefore the quality of your wine.