Here at Illahe, we are always interested in trying new winemaking ideas. While a lot of our winemaking practices are rooted in science, it is really the art of winemaking that motivates us. We have been experimenting with native fermentation since our very inception, and this month we will be releasing our first wine made with 100% native yeast, "Bon Sauvage".
Most wineries start fermentation by adding commercial yeasts to their wines. While we do use some commercial yeasts, we also like to use the native yeasts that can be found on the grape skins or in the grape juice. Usually, a commercial yeast will overwhelm these native yeasts. If no commercial yeast is added, then the native yeasts will ferment the wine to its completion.
The pros and cons of each type of fermentation are complex. The advantage of using commercial yeast is that it allows a winemaker more control over which flavors are extracted from the grapes, as well as more control over the rate of fermentation. During a native ferment, the winemaker is at the mercy of nature. Fermentation will start whenever the native yeasts are ready, and the winemaker cannot control which flavors the yeast will extract. While the flavors extracted from native fermentation are often less fruity, they also offer more depth and complexity.
As you can see, it is not an obvious choice to say one form of fermentation is better than the other. They both have their advantages, which is why we use both methods here at Illahe. The 2010 vintage provided the perfect combination of moderate brix levels and low pH levels for native fermentation, so we used native yeast to ferment about a quarter of our wines.
With such a large percentage of our wine being made with native yeast, we decided to blend four barrels into a unique wine, made with 100% natural yeast. While this bottling may not be as fruity as our regular pinot noir, it offers layers of complexity beyond anything I've ever tasted from Illahe, with hints of baking spice, cedar, and maple syrup to complement the subtle blackberry and raspberry flavors.
This might be my favorite Illahe wine I've ever tasted. But don't take my word for it, come and taste it yourself! We will be releasing "Bon Sauvage" at our annual Earth Day Event on Saturday, April 21st. We will be pouring it side-by-side with our regular pinot noir, so you can taste the difference. We only produced 80 cases of this wine, so be sure to come and taste it soon!