Natural/Spontaneous Fermentation

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bearpaw8491

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I’ve been following the various threads here dealing with natural/spontaneous fermentation with great interest. Many of the members have done an exceptional job of describing and documenting their experiences with spontaneous fermentation and the quality of the resulting wines.


I’ve been a winemaker for a number of years using “modern” techniques so I have a good knowledge base but have decided that I would like to try a small scale spontaneous fermentation without risking an entire crop. I need to do additional research before starting my experiment so I’m looking for books/formal publications discussing the techniques and potential trouble spots one might encounter. Can anyone recommend such resources?





Thanks in advance
 

Obbnw

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No help from me ; )

But I did pick a gallon of baco noir the other day (5 young vines) and decided to just see what happens. 2 days so far and nothing.

Hopefully in a few weeks I'll have several hundred pounds of tempranillo and 2 weeks after that several hundred pounds of Malbec. Not sure I'm ready to risk a natural ferment on those yet.
 

bearpaw8491

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No help from me ; )

But I did pick a gallon of baco noir the other day (5 young vines) and decided to just see what happens. 2 days so far and nothing.

Hopefully in a few weeks I'll have several hundred pounds of tempranillo and 2 weeks after that several hundred pounds of Malbec. Not sure I'm ready to risk a natural ferment on those yet.
Believe I read that it could take as long as 5 days for the ignition and then it was a pretty slow ferment after that.
 

balatonwine

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I’ve been a winemaker for a number of years using “modern” techniques so I have a good knowledge base but have decided that I would like to try a small scale spontaneous fermentation without risking an entire crop.

Do you want to create a modern "spontaneous" wine or a traditional wine?

Important question.

Doing it "natural" or "spontaneous", traditionally, is something perfected over a few centuries of wine making experience. If you want to do it traditionally.

One will not really learn how to do it optimally, today, online. You can spend a few years experimenting, perfecting and trying. But you need to build up personal experience to get it right, consistently (i.e. you may get it right this year, but not next or the next year or maybe you will... but it will not be consistent till you learn how to get it consistent). There is no short cut to traditional methods. If you want to inject "modern" methods, that is different. But then it will be a modern wine, not a traditional wine.

Can anyone recommend such resources?

For traditional wine making: Find a master wine maker in your area that learned from other master wine makers from direct passed down knowledge. That will cut down your learning curve and time to getting consistent wine.

For modern wine: Can not help. Loosing interest in many too excessive modern wine making methods. After two decades, the older I get, the more traditional I become (sort of -- it is complicated).

Side note: I ruined many years of grapes trying go spontaneous, traditionally, till I started to "get it".

Hope this helps.
 

balatonwine

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I’d be interested in hearing more about this if you have time to elaborate. What you were doing and what you changed after you ‘got it’.

I can not condense many years of knowledge and experience into a forum post. Other than to say, I had to learn by experience when to do things and when not to do things to get good results. It is like an apprenticeship. It takes time and experience. Much like learning to play the piano. You can watch all the piano lessons online, but to get good at playing the piano, you have to practice playing the piano. The lousy part of wine making for someone like me, who has a vineyard, is I got only one chance a year to get it right or wrong. Using kits, and making many a year can maybe decrease that total learning curve time. You may find it worth it. I really like my spontaneous wine now.

Hope this helps.
 

Cynewulf

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I can not condense many years of knowledge and experience into a forum post. Other than to say, I had to learn by experience when to do things and when not to do things to get good results. It is like an apprenticeship. It takes time and experience. Much like learning to play the piano. You can watch all the piano lessons online, but to get good at playing the piano, you have to practice playing the piano. The lousy part of wine making for someone like me, who has a vineyard, is I got only one chance a year to get it right or wrong. Using kits, and making many a year can maybe decrease that total learning curve time. You may find it worth it. I really like my spontaneous wine now.

Hope this helps.
Well, how about this: are you able to share one major learning experience, either positive or negative?

I understand the challenge of trying to learn when only given one opportunity per year for practical application. My own vineyard is only in its second year of providing enough of a yield for me to try out some of the techniques I spend all year thinking about. I’m also still figuring out the best approach for each of the varieties I grow. For now I think my red hybrid will benefit from carbonic maceration while my Cab Franc could use a little more whole cluster than I’ve been giving it. I haven’t had a problem with the spontaneous fermentations, either alcoholic or malolactic, in any of my attempts. Nothing ruined yet, though I recognize the need for continued vigilance.

I’d love to have someone locally to mentor me in natural winemaking techniques as you suggest, but the community just doesn’t exist locally so I’m on my own. I do have the benefit of having married into a French family/language so have been able to watch a lot of interviews with French natural winemakers (or speak to them directly when I’m in country visiting the in-laws) and picked up a lot of interesting ideas for things I’d like to try - when next year comes back around…
 

balatonwine

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Well, how about this: are you able to share one major learning experience, either positive or negative?
Yes.

Keep the wine aerated. Stir it often. And a really good stir. Punch down any cap, and get everything in the container into suspension. Many times a day (at least three times, or four or five). The reason is the "bad" yeast and bacterial will grow more with less O2 so give that primary as much O2 as you can at least till 60% to 75% of the sugar is fermented. Then, after that, more subtle methods are needed. That does not mean you leave the top fully open. You can airlock between aeration or just cover. That is a more complex and subtle issue which to do. Have not fully worked that one out myself fully. ;)
 

Scooter68

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Keep in mind that while wine grapes and in fact most fruit have wild yeast on them, wineries that have been in operation for a long period of time have a far higher concentration of wine favorable yeast in the facility than the average home. For that reason a natural or spontaneous fermentation from any home grown or source that does not cater to wineries, may not have a good concentration of the best yeasts for wine making. Not saying you won't succeed, but relying on the chance that your grapes or any fruit will have a good yeast for wine making, the odds on your success can vary greatly depending on your source of fruit and the location where you make your wine.
 

Cynewulf

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Keep in mind that while wine grapes and in fact most fruit have wild yeast on them, wineries that have been in operation for a long period of time have a far higher concentration of wine favorable yeast in the facility than the average home. For that reason a natural or spontaneous fermentation from any home grown or source that does not cater to wineries, may not have a good concentration of the best yeasts for wine making. Not saying you won't succeed, but relying on the chance that your grapes or any fruit will have a good yeast for wine making, the odds on your success can vary greatly depending on your source of fruit and the location where you make your wine.
This seems to come up in any thread about wild/ambient/spontaneous ferments, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen any evidence or experience cited in support of it. I’m certainly open to hearing about contravening negative experiences. One way to test it for yourself is to make a pied de cuve in advance and decide if you want to inoculate everything with it. My own experience is that I’ve never used a commercial/cultivated yeast in my home winemaking so shouldn’t have any in my cellar but have not had an issue with any of my spontaneous ferments, either with grapes from my vineyard or from others. YMMV of course. I’m becoming very happy with the wine I’m making as it’s heading in the direction I was going for, but it might not be for everybody. Commercial yeast will give you greater control over the process but I don’t think that’s what folks interested in spontaneous ferments are looking for. Both approaches will benefit and constrain what your end product can be, in different ways.
 

Ohio Bob

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Many good thoughts have been expressed here. I recall reading that wineries a century ago would return their pomace to the fields so a wild yeast for that area would eventually dominate. Thus spontaneous fermentations were probably more successful and repeatable. Unless the home wine maker dedicates the growing, fermentation, and pomace management to a few varietals, it seems like spontaneous fermentation is really hit or miss.

Also remember that yeasts available for purchase today have been isolated, then produced in large quantities such they are no longer “wild”. But they’re the same yeast, not some lab created organism. That said I don’t know why someone would risk their juice for the unknown. It seems like any of the available yeasts for purchase would be similar if not identical to wild yeasts. Technology continues to improve and probably not every wild yeast has been isolated.

I live in an area that used to be corn fields so wild yeasts, for me are probably to be avoided. Plus I like to try Italian and Chilean varietals and I can’t get their yeasts.

So for me, avoiding spontaneous is the way to go. But for those who want to do it, I say go for it. I ask this out of ignorance, what can you make that you can’t get with a commercial yeast?
 

Cynewulf

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I ask this out of ignorance, what can you make that you can’t get with a commercial yeast?
For me, it was finding so-called ‘natural wines’ in France and having my ‘aha’ moment. That was what I wanted to make. It’s difficult for me to describe the difference, but it’s something unlike what you’ll generally find in wines made with conventional techniques, part of which is sulfiting and inoculating with saccharomyces. I think it helps to keep in mind that wild yeast doesn’t refer just to the small number of saccharomyces cerevesiae that are present on the grape skins, but that there are a host of other yeasts that can be active up to 5% alcohol before the saccharomyces population will have grown large enough to take over and push through to the end. These are the Pichias, Torulesporas, Hanseniasporas, etc. which for the most part haven’t been cultivated commercially, and each one contributes its own esters to the smell and taste of the wine. Generally speaking, my favorite wines have no or low sulfites added to promote biological diversity. I personally don’t add any sulfites beyond what I use for sanitation and have not had issues. To understand the difference, I think you have to seek out a well made bottle of natural wine, which tends to mean made with low or no sulfites, and see if it’s something you like. I reckon it’s not for everybody, but for some it can be inspiring. For me it was. As you said, everyone has to do what they’re most comfortable with and make what they like to drink. But since there are folks in this thread interested in doing it, I’m going to suggest that spontaneous ferments are not as risky or scary as they’re sometimes made out to be.
 

Scooter68

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A key point is your source of grapes/fruit. Vineyards that are raising grapes for winemaking are going to treat those grapes differently than a commercial or private grape grower. If you buy your grapes or prepared juice from them, your unlikely to have a problem. (We have heard of some suppliers who always inoculate their juices with a yeast before shipping.) Unfortunately not everyone who sets out to do a natural/spontaneous ferment are using properly prepared grapes/fruit.

We have a lot of people on here who have table grapes and then decide to make wine with them. IF they have been spraying their grapes with anything that will negatively impact the yeast. That could impact the presence of any wild yeast.

If their supplier ( A vineyard that does NOT cater to winemakers) treats the grapes to avoid spoilage, it's not at all inconceivable to see that the wild natural yeasts may be either weaker or not present in sufficient quantity to ferment the grapes.

Not all sources of grapes/fruit are going to provide a grape/fruit that has a good yeast present to ferment into a good wine.
We have had at least one report here on this site where a poster watched a couple of people who made wine the same way every year and their results were NOT always good. They were doing the minimalist/natural approach to wine making and it didn't always work for them. I don't remember the name of that thread but it was pretty clear that for those folks, it was NOT always a success to rely on the old fashioned natural wine making processes.

Commercial yeasts were developed so that wine makers could produce repeatable results or achieve results not always possible with wild/natural yeasts. Nothing at all wrong with using naturally occurring wild yeasts but the results can and do vary.

Note: being from Northern Virginia you are in an area with a lot of winemaking and that alone means a higher presence of natural yeasts. Anyone from an area devoid of wineries of vineyards may on have great or consistent results depending their source of grapes/fruit. I grew up in the Mojave desert and I doubt that there was much in the way of naturally wild yeasts in the our area. Natural/Spontaneous fermentation certainly can work perfectly for many people but people do need to understand that it is certainly not without some risks. Where I live now, there are plenty of vineyards and a few wineries in the area so a natural ferment is far more likely to be possible for me should I chose to do so.
 
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Cynewulf

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Back to the OP’s original question, I haven’t found a lot of books in English on natural winemaking, and most of the home winemaking books I’ve read seem to caution against it, but here are a couple I’ve found but haven’t read:

Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking: Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking: Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture: Karlsson, Britt and Per, Tanner, Roger: 9781782501138: Amazon.com: Books

Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally: Legeron, Isabelle: 9781782498995: Amazon.com: Books

I’ve found a few others in French, though that may not be helpful for everyone:

Pur jus la vinification nature Pur jus la vinification nature: Godart, Fleur, Saint Lô, Justine: 9782501122436: Amazon.com: Books

TRAITE DE JAJALOGIE MANUEL DE VIN NATUREL TRAITE DE JAJALOGIE MANUEL DE VIN NATUREL: Jégu, Pierrick: 9791092254433: Amazon.com: Books

Chez Marcel Lapierre Chez Marcel Lapierre: Lapaque, Sébastien: 9782710367505: Amazon.com: Books

One of the best sources for information I’ve found are the interviews on Bert Celce’s blog: https://www.wineterroirs.com/. He goes all over the world but has a special focus on winemakers in the Loire Valley and often goes into interesting details regarding their protocols and even equipment. If you’re looking for somewhere to start on his page, I’d check out the Loire and Rhône sections.

Back in French, the interviews on the YouTube channel, https://youtube.com/c/JusdelaVigneVinsNaturels are excellent.

One caveat to most of these sources is they will insist that the grapes need to be farmed organically or biodynamically. I think that’s preferable and wish I could do it, but it’s not an option for me and I spray at different stages during the growing season mancozeb, sulfur, captan, myclobutanil, and phosphorous acid. Early on I was a little worried about it, but it doesn’t seem to have interfered with my ferments. Everything goes dry then malolactic fermentation also occurs spontaneously.
 

winemanden

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I can not condense many years of knowledge and experience into a forum post. Other than to say, I had to learn by experience when to do things and when not to do things to get good results. It is like an apprenticeship. It takes time and experience. Much like learning to play the piano. You can watch all the piano lessons online, but to get good at playing the piano, you have to practice playing the piano. The lousy part of wine making for someone like me, who has a vineyard, is I got only one chance a year to get it right or wrong. Using kits, and making many a year can maybe decrease that total learning curve time. You may find it worth it. I really like my spontaneous wine now.

Hope this helps.
I once asked a winemaker a question. He said ' Why the hell are you asking me? You're a country winemaker who makes lots of wine every year. I've been a winemaker for fifteen years and I've made fifteen wines.' Nuff said.
 

Obbnw

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I gave up - 6 days, no activity except what looked like a white mold...

Bought some yeast last night and put maybe 1/8 of the packet in (just sprinkled the dry yeast on top then stirred it in). This morning it already had a small cap.

Climate here is dry and since I picked the grapes it's been over 100 degrees and under 15% RH every day. Maybe all the natural yeast just took a nap ; )
 

Obbnw

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yikes. Is your primary at that temperature as well? I would worry about spoilage.
I have it in a basement of an air-conditioned house. Probably 70 degrees.

It was a low risk experiment, normally I just freeze early grapes but was feeling lazy and thought what the heck, worst case I lose a gallon.

I will say it was nice to come home to the smell of fermenting grapes again ; )
 

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