Choosing the Right Fruit Wine Yeast

yeastcellsIn winemaking, the quality of the fruit is very important, so is the recipe or procedures used, diligent racking and of course the finishing touches will make a wine good or great. However, choosing the right type of yeast for a right type of wine is of prime importance and often, it is what give a wine its unique character or “personality”.

What follows is an excerpt of an interview I did wine Winemaker Magazine on the subject. I think this can be useful for all winemakers starting to plan their summer wine production soon. Enjoy!

How important is choosing the right yeast for fruit wines?

I would say that choosing the right yeast strain for the specific style of fruit wine wanted is very important. It is often a major key in differentiating a good wine and a truly great award winning wine. Yeast is what gives “life” to a wine and often gives a particular wine its “personality” so I would say that it is very important.

What are some of the strains you recommend and why?

I experiment a fair amount with different strains of yeast. Over the years, I have narrowed my wine production to the following strains:

Lallemand 71B – a great all around yeast for most off dry fruit wines. Really helps bring out the fresh fruitiness in most berry and some tree fruit wines.

Lallemand BA11 – excellent on tree fruit and tropical fruit wines. Really helps the aroma and can increase “mouth feel”.

Lallemand EC1118 – good all around yeast to use, especially with wines with low pH or starting the ferment at low temperatures. If you need the fruit wine to ferment to a very dry level, or to make a sparkling wine, this is the yeast to use.

Lallemand K1 – Great at bringing out freshness in tree fruit wines such as apple, peach or peach. Will ferment well, no matter what the pH or temperature of the must is. I use this strain the most.

Lallemand R2 – A very good, strong strain, ideal for very sweet fruit wines, cryo-extrated wines and wines that need to ferment at low temperatures to retain the aromatic qualities. I use this yeast in “iced” fruit wines with a lot of success.

Lallemand VIN13 – I use this yeast in wines that need higher alcohol without fortification as it can ferment to almost 17% without any help. It gives me good tropical notes and relatively clear flavors and can ferment under cooler temperatures.

Bio Springer CKS 102 – I also use this strain a lot if I need aromatic berry wines such as raspberry or delicate strawberry wines to really “shine”. Also works great on tropical wines such as lychee, pineapple and passion fruit. In fruit wines, we want as “clean” a ferment as possible and this strain does a good job at it.

Oenoferm Freddo – I have just started to use this yeast strain recently and I am very happy with the results. I find that it brings out the fresh fruit aroma that I look for many of the wine styles I produce.

What effect do these yeasts have on particular wines?

The effects that different yeast strains have of particular wines are varied but as far as fruit wines are concerned, I am a strong believer that fruit wines need to have a strong, clean and fresh aromatic quality to them. Because fruit wines usually have a lower nitrogen content to them and can be a bit “hard” on yeast, I look for strains that work will in lower nutrient content and accentuate fresh aromatic qualities under less than ideal conditions.

What kind of experimenting should home winemakers try to find the right strain?

I am more of a “Lallemand” winemaker but other yeast suppliers also make excellent strains that are worth experimenting with in fruit winemaking.

The main method of experimentation is by doing smaller scale “bench” trials before deciding on a yeast strain to use and making larger quantities of wine with it.

The easiest way to experiment this way is to simply split a particular batch of wine into two, three or four smaller batches and inoculate with different yeast strains. After a wine is fermented, finned and filtered, the wines are then evaluated on a standard 20-point judging system (color, aroma, taste and finish), very much it is done in wine competitions. Obviously the “winner” indicated which yeast strain produced a better wine. It is amazing how obviously different the wines can be!

Are there any problems or mistakes home winemakers should look out for when choosing a yeast strain for fruit wines?

Most winemakers don’t give a thought to using a different wine yeast stain with their wines. The biggest problem is the lack of knowledge that many home winemakers have on the effect of using different yeasts on different types of wines. Don’t just choose “Champagne” yeast for everything!

Another major issue is that you should not just “sprinkle” the dry yeast on the surface of the must. Sure, the wine may still ferment but you are much more prone to developing a stuck fermentation or “sluggish” fermentation which will create off flavors and take away from the fruity aromas you need in a fruit wine. Rehydrate the yeast well. This is one area where you do not want to skip corners.

Make sure the yeast used is fresh and was well stored. Yeast does have a short shelf life and to get the best effect and problem free fermentation, look for yeast that was manufactured less than 6 months ago and stored under cool and dark conditions.

Strong and healthy yeast culture population in a well re-hydrated yeast can make the difference between a clean, aromatic and problem free fermentation and a stuck ferment with off flavors developing that are hard to fix.

What other advice can you share for choosing yeast strains for fruit wines?

As stated above, when choosing a yeast for fruit wines, go for the strain that can work well under low temperature, pH and nutrient levels and more importantly accentuate aromatic qualities of the fruit.

Sometimes yeasts are only available in 500g or even 1KG packages, which can be a lot of yeast if you are making smaller amounts of wine. Getting together with other winemakers or joining a winemaking club is a great way to pool together and buy some of these yeast strains to share.

A big part of the fun in winemaking is experimenting and “tweaking” a wine over time to make the best product possible. A great way to do this is by using the many yeast strains available to amateur and commercial winemakers alike.

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