The differences between wild and cultivated Yeast, explained

Thursday, 6 January, 2022
Wine Enthusiast, Mekita Rivas
Cara Morrison, Chardonnay winemaker at Sonoma-Cutrer in California’s Russian River Valley, believes in the power of yeast.

“I consider yeast as winemakers, since yeast converts the sugar of grape juice into alcohol,” says Morrison. “Without yeast, we only have really yummy grape juice.” 

For winemakers, yeast functions like a key that unlocks a different dimension of the grape juice. During the fermentation process, yeast releases aroma and flavor compounds bound to the sugars in the juice. Those sugars, along with other chemical elements like acid and nutrient levels, plus fermentation process, aging, variety and regional characteristics, all shape the end product: the wine you’ll drink at a dinner table somewhere.  

Like wines, yeasts vary and satisfy different needs. Cultivated yeast is grown for specific grape juices, and there are many to choose from. Often, cultivated yeasts are wild yeasts that are collected in the vineyard, multiplied and then packaged, says Nicholas Ducos, owner and winemaker at Mural City Cellars in Philadelphia.

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