Yeaster me, yeaster you, yeaster day

Above: In some parts of the world, the “yeasting” of wines is common practice and is considered a genuinely positive aspect of human intervention, as evidenced in this post by Vinogirl. I don’t know much about Vinogirl but I love reading her blog and her posts about harvest in Napa are wonderful.

Ever the Solomon of wine bloggers, Eric posted Friday on the sometimes “strident” tones tossed about in the debate over natural wine and its definition.

I greatly appreciated Eric’s observation:

    I think that too much effort is spent coming up with a precise definition. Making wines “naturally,’’ after all, does not mean the wines are any good. All things considered, I prefer wine that would fit a rough definition of natural. But I don’t think the dividing line between natural and — what, unnatural? — is always that clear. Certainly, it is not if you are trying to characterize a winemaker.

Above: I tasted with Produttori del Barbaresco winemaker Aldo Vacca this year at Vinitaly. He is one of the most earnest and forthright winemakers I’ve ever met and I love his wines.

It does seem that the one thing that all natural wine lovers — from enthusiast to dogmatist — agree on is that “ambient” or “native” yeasts (i.e., naturally occurring yeasts) are a key if not the key element necessary to be allowed into the natural wine pantheon.

The delicate issue of yeast was illustrated Eric’s account of winemaker Roumier who “tries to make wine as naturally as he can, but he told a story once of having a batch of wine that had gotten stuck in mid-fermentation. The only way he could get it going again was to add yeast, a cardinal sin among many natural wine devotees.”

It made me think of what Produttori del Barbaresco winemaker Aldo Vacca recently told me when I called him to transact some other business but couldn’t resist asking him about the practice of “yeasting” at the winery.

“In a great vintage, we do not add yeast,” he said, “because the fermentation does not need any help. But in many vintages, we use a yeast called ‘Barolo strain’ that was developed based on yeasts that occur naturally in our terroir.”

According to the results of a quick Google search, the Barolo strain was “selected from 4 year study by University of Torino from over 600 isolates taken from 31 wineries of the Barolo region. The selection goal was to find a dominant natural yeast from Nebbiolo that is able to retain and enhance color.”

I never have and never would call Produttori del Barbaresco a “natural wine,” even though I believe the style of the wine jives with the wines of producers who subscribe to the natural wine movement. And I wonder if any of those winemakers have ever used a cultured yeast in a challenging vintage (like Roumier).

Throughout the debate, many have asked rhetorically, would the coinage of an expression other than natural wine offer an umbrella for those wines that aspire to the ideals of natural winemaking but don’t quite achieve its sanctity?

Founder Teobaldo Cappellano dubbed the Italian natural wine movement Vini Veri or Real Wines and added the epigram, wines as natural intended them.

Perhaps we should call these wines “humanist” wines. After all, all wine is made by humankind for consumption by humankind. In the end, I find that the wines I like the best are the ones that take into account not nature but rather “human scale,” as Guilhaume Gerard put it (in his remarks at the Symposium).

We can discuss natural wines and their definition until we’re blue in the face, but in the end, we are human — all too human.

Forget natural wine: the Texas weather will put the fear of G-d in you. I snapped this photo yesterday as Tracie B and I were strolling across the Colorado River. Click the photo for the full-sized image.

3 thoughts on “Yeaster me, yeaster you, yeaster day

  1. Hopefully we can move beyond comparing Produttori wines with Twinkies, which an earlier post of yours had a comment that seemed to allude to a confluence of the two.

    Nice post, Dr.P – I think we should give you an MTV award for it (as long as no one will jump the stage while you are accepting the award).
    Chapeau!

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