The difference between a bottle of grape juice and a bottle of wine is the alcohol, but where does the alcohol come from?
Alcohol is the result of the fermentation process where a micro- organism (yeast) converts sugar into alcohol and carbon
dioxide gas. Yeast is a living organism that is critical to winemaking. Without yeast, there would be no beer, wine or
spirits, bread, yoghurt or cheese. 'God is Good' was how yeast was referred to prior to 1859
when Louis Pasteur discovered that a single cell organism was responsible for the conversion of sugars into alcohol and
carbon dioxide. The Egyptians were the earliest recorded users of yeasts. They brewed wine and they baked bread.
Yeasts are around 6-8 microns in size (1 micron is 1 millionth of a metre), it takes about 20 billion of them to
make up 1 gram of yeast and the chemical reaction that happens is C6h32O6 + yeast = 2C2H5OH + 2CO2.
Three common winemaking yeasts are:
- Saccharomyces Banyus - Used for sparkling wines, known for compact lees and producing yeasty flavours. High alcohol
tolerance and good tolerance to S02 levels. Often used to restart stuck fermentations. Examples of this yeast are EC-
1118, and Prise de Mousse.
- Saccharomyces Cerevisiae - A good strain for fruity and aromatic wines. Favours malolactic fermentation, and should
be used with nutrient. Examples of this yeast are D47, Epernay II, K1-V1116, Montrachet, Pasture Red.
- Saccharomyces Fermentati - This is a Flor Sherry yeast used in the production of sherry type wines and helps impart
the well rounded, whole flavours associated with sherries. Often used in conjunction with aerobic fermentations.
Yeast is grown commercially by starting with a known 'strain' of yeast, feeding it with molasses or other sugars so it multiplies
and then harvesting it. Freeze dried yeast is the most popular form of yeast for wine making. It's kept in the fridge till required. The
yeast is 're-hydrated' by adding it to water at 40°C and letting it stand for 20-30 minutes. This is then tipped into
the wine must to start fermentation. There are hundreds of different yeasts available for making wine.
Yeasts occur naturally on the skin of grapes but we kill those off before fermentation. These wild yeasts would give
unpredictable results and who knows what flavour you would end up with. The winemaker decides what results he
wants before the fermentation is started.
An example of one wine making yeast and the information available to the winemaker is shown below from the Lalvin
LALVIN (Dry) Wine Yeast Specifications ICV D-47
This strain was isolated from grapes grown in the Côtes-du-Rhône region of France by Dr. Dominique Delteil, head of the
Microbiology Department, Institut coopératif du vin (ICV), in Montpellier. ICV D-47 strain was selected from 450 isolates
collected between 1986 and 1990.
OENOLOGICAL PROPERTIES AND APPLICATIONS
The ICV D-47 is a low-foaming quick fermenter that settles well, forming a compact lees at the end of fermentation. This
strain tolerates fermentation temperatures ranging from 10° to 30°C (50° to 86°F) and enhances mouthfeel due to complex
carbohydrates. Malolactic fermentation proceeds well in wine made with ICV D-47.
This strain is recommended for making wines from white varieties such as Chardonnay and Rosé. It is also an excellent
choice for producing mead, however be sure to supplement with yeast nutrients, especially usable nitrogen.
Under Australian law a 'product' must include a statement of the percentage by volume of ethanol therein at 20°C, expressed
to the nearest first decimal place and accurate to within 0.5% of ethanol at 20°C and can be:
- Labelled wine if it has an alcohol content of between 6.5% and 15% ethanol by volume at 20°C
- Called a low alcohol beverage if it has no more than 1.15% ethanol by volume at 20°C
- Called a reduced alcohol wine if it has more than 1.15% but not more than 6.5% of ethanol by volume at 20°C
- Not represented as de-alcoholised wine unless is contains at most 0.5% of ethanol by volume at 20°C and the grape variety can replace the word wine
- Called a fortified wine (which is not a prescribed name unlike Port) if it has more that 15% and less than 22% of ethanol by volume at 20°C
These definitions vary around the world. And it may not be just for health or marketing purposes that the alcohol content
is listed. A higher alcohol wine attracts higher taxes in many parts of the world.
You may see the words 'proof' on some labels. Proof is simply the percentage of alcohol times 2. If a wine is 14% alcohol
it is 28 proof. This is mostly used on spirits rather than wines.
* Reproduced with permission from Peter Svans at The Gurdies Winery