There are over 200 (or even more) yeast strains commercially available to winemakers. How do you choose which ones to use? It is interesting to note the differences in psychology of yeast choice between different wine producing areas in the world. Having travelled to most of the important wine areas I have come across various different “reasons” for particular choices of yeast. I found tradition to play a big role. For instance, in my experience Bordeaux is Laffort country. The French like everything to be French – vive la France! It is very difficult for non-French companies such as Erbslöh, Mauri and Anchor Yeast to make inroads into this market. Lallemand, although French Canadian, comes a close second, seeing that their technical head offices are in Toulouse. And they are French off course.
In Germany Erbslöh is big due to a long standing association with Geisenheim, the very famous university for studying winemaking. However, French yeasts seem to be more acceptable in Germany than German yeasts in France, with the exception of Alsace. South African (www.anchorwineyeast.com) yeasts are also quite popular. Probably because the South African yeasts are true New World wine yeasts promoting New World wine styles. German winemakers, especially in the south, are more open to “internationalise” their wine styles. The taste of the wines anyway, the labels are still a problem.
Australia is quite an interesting example. In my experience the main players are Lallemand and Mauri. Mauri was traditionally Australian but is now owned by a Brittish company. However the legacy remains and they have a long research association with the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI). Lallemand is probably the premium yeast of choice and I find it astonishing that most tank fermented white wines in Australia are made with one particular yeast. Trying to convince an Aussie winemaker to try something else on white is like pulling teeth, especially if you are trying to convince them to use South African yeasts. I suspect rugby and cricket has something to do with it.
I find the New Zealand market very open to suggestions. They seem to make technology their reason for their yeast choices. They follow science, are great in trialling new products and very open to new suggestions and change. No specific yeast company dominates this market.
The American market loves the French yeasts. However, they are open to change lately and do pay attention to new research findings on yeast. Anchor yeasts have made some inroads into this market lately since American winemakers are looking into making more New World style wines, especially the whites. They are moving away from heavily oaked, buttery wine styles to more easy drinking fruity wine styles that countries such as South Africa, Chile, Australia and New Zealand produce.
In Chile DSM (the former Gist-Brocades, www.dsm-oenology.com) used to be the main player in the yeast business due to the fact that they had production facilities in Chile. They remain one of the main players in the market today. Subsequently Lallemand and Laffort have become big players and Anchor Yeast is gaining popularity fast. I find the wineries that I have visited quite modern and scientific in their approaches and they base their yeast choices on the best possible yeast for the application. Tradition does not play such a big role.
The other reasons why winemakers use the yeasts they do:
Price – “I use only basic yeasts (pdm) because they are the cheapest and I produce bulk wine”
“Everyone else is using it”
“I don’t believe choice of yeast has any influence” – these winemakers should preferably not be allowed to make quality wine.
What your choice should be based on is the following (and it is not rocket science):
1. The yeast needs to be able to complete fermentation under your specific conditions (each tank in your cellar being unique) without any problems and off odours.
2. The yeast must be the most suitable one for your specific style of wine. Sancerre produces a different style Sauvignon blanc to New Zealand.
There are many yeasts in the world good for the production of Cabernet Sauvignon. Very few can ferment 26°Brix to dryness. So if you make wine in the Napa valley, you might need to choose a different yeast to what is being used in Bordeaux where grapes are picked at 24°Brix and below. The good news is that you probably do not have to give up tradition as choice of yeast supplier, you might just need to change to a more suitable yeast within your supplier’s range for your specific conditions. In some cases however, you will have to change supplier to find a more suitable yeast. The proverbial leap of faith. If you are not open to change I suggest reading the book: “Who moved my cheese” by Spencer Johnson.