For most of our history, wines have been made with wild yeast. Most people didn’t even realize what caused their grape juice to ferment until 1857 when French microbiologist Louis Pasteur proved that alcoholic fermentation was conducted by living yeasts and not by a chemical catalyst. Commercial yeasts have been available for a little more than 100 years and have become almost irreplaceable in the modern winery. However, a large number of entrenched wine producers in Europe never made the switch over to commercial yeast and have inspired many newer producers to follow suit. Does it matter where your yeast is from? Are the yeasts we buy better–or perhaps worse–than what grows in the vineyard and wine cellar? After many years of making wine on Long Island using both wild and commercial yeast, I felt that it was time to see what wild yeast can really do.
It takes time to build up a reliable population in a new facility and after 12 years at Raphael I felt ready. The desire to define and describe the true Long Island character leads me to believe the answer lay with wild yeasts. What better way to do that than to use indigenous yeast to extract the flavors of the grapes that grow here? Letting the grapes do what they want to do, in my opinion, will help us find a natural, local flavor and further amplify the characteristics that define our wine.
As some may know, this year Raphael released a white blend called Naturale that we made with naturally occurring wild yeasts. It’s gotten some good early press, including a nice nod on LENNDEVOURS.com and a short feature in Edible East End’s High Summer edition, thanks to Amy Zavatto, whose interview inspired some of my thoughts here. As I told Amy, I’ve made some reds with yeasts here and there, and sometimes I don’t even talk about it. There’s a certain sincerity about using what’s at hand; it’s a natural part of the process. I’d like to take more wines in this direction, as a further expression of our terroir. With all the ingredients coming from this one plot of land, it doesn’t get much more “local” than this.