Wine Talk

Snooth User: dmcker

A purposely 'bretted' wine?

Posted by dmcker, Apr 7.

I know of a number of people in the craft beer world who are purposely introducing brettanomyces into the brewing equation to see how interesting things can get. 'Wild yeast' beers are barely (not) controllable but they are rapidly becoming cult items. Case in point, this quote about a Sierra Nevada brew, taken from Good Morning America:

 

Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux

"This one seems to bring everyone to tears," said Richards. "A collaboration between brewers of this auspiciousness ought to be magnificent, and it measures up to expectations. Hugely carbonated, and with the unmistakable funk of Brettanomyces yeast, it's hard to mistake it for anything but a wild yeast beer, but it has an array of flavors and aromas competing for, and often winning, your attention. Fresh pear and apple fruitiness; grassy, floral aromas like a spring meadow, and those signature barnyard aromas all play a part to complement a dry, effervescent, tart and light bodied brew. Substitute at will for champagne on New Year's Eve."

 

In the wine world the economies at most operations may be too severe (e.g. how much you need to charge for a bottle off leveraged land in Napa or someplace similar) to allow such horseplay, but I don't really know these days who's getting creative on smaller operations where the owner/winemaker has more freedom. Certainly I have fond memories of a number of wines from the bad old days in Europe (pre-'90s) where brett was a recognizable joker in the bouquet-and-flavor deck. I can still recall my several encounters over the years with extraordinary bottles of 1990 Beaucastel, for example. Chateau Musar over in the Lebanon seems to have been upholding that tradition even after Beaucastel cleaned up their act.

So who else is going crazy with 'wild yeast' in the wine world, in ways that bring brett and other supposedly-unfavorable effects to the fore in interesting ways? And no, I'm not particularly talking about biodynamic operations, et al., who purposely don't introduce commercial yeasts but count on those native to their environment while taking other efforts to keep things clean-and-controlled. I'm asking about more radical departures...

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Replies

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Reply by outthere, Apr 7.

even after Beaucastel cleaned up their act."

 

They did!

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 8.

"They did!"

Was that meant as an exclamation point, or a question mark? If the latter, yeah they definitely did, even if you still wouldn't want to eat off every surface in their faciities, or have UC Davis audit their step-by-steps. The Perrin family obviously gained various things from their experience with California.

If anything the 1989 displayed even more brett than their 1990, amongst the bottles I've drunk. Their wines of the past decade or so come off far less so.

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Reply by napagirl68, Apr 8.

Dmcker,

I cannot give specifics happening at present as far as purposeful inclusion of brettanomyces in wine.... but I did notice a certain "trend" happening after the Sideways (movie)  influence on Pinot. 

Napa was the biggest culprit that I experienced.  Suddenly, many wineries were making Pinot, and not doing it well.  When out tasting, they would exclaim that the notes of "barnyard" or outright calling it "brett" indicated a fantastic pinot.  No, this was not earthiness.  These pinots were overcooked, dark, smelled like a pig farm on a 100degree Central Valley day.  And people liked them, and bought them.

At least for Pinot, I see an approach toward balance and quality now.  The only brett wines I have encountered recently were accidental.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 8.

"smelled like a pig farm on a 100degree Central Valley day"

Only someone who's been there can truly appreciate that ripe, 'barnyard' analogy. A sweetness to the rotten funk, with a crisp edge that you don't get from a hot and damp pigfarm on the Gulf Coast or southern Japan, or a cool and damp one in northern Britain. Or maybe I'm just thinking of the southern, arid end of the Central/San Joaquin  Valley, not up north where there is some humidity. ;-)

And I sure know what you're talking about regarding those crappy, crappy (yes, pun intended and worth repeating) PNs. Still run across them from time to time, even while taking care to try to avoid.

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Reply by gregt, Apr 8.

D  - if people are intentionally introducing Brett into their wine, they're beyond stupid.

It's going to show up anyway. it's all over. And it's uncontrollable. Maybe if they keep beer in the fridge, they can control it to some degree, but wine isn't usually kept in a fridge. Moreover, the results are completely unpredictable and contrary to what some may think, Brett doesn't always and only introduce complexity. It can simply ruin the wine, or make it flavorless or make it seem metallic, etc.

The only people I can imagine who would intentionally introduce it are people who have large trust funds and who don't care about selling any wine or squandering the money their ancestors bequeathed them. There are some folks like Phil Cotturi and Sean Thackery who make curious wines, but I don't think that even they have intentionally introduced additional Brett.

 

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 8.

The dangers of brett have been well discussed over the years, though there are a number of us out there who have acquired a taste for small portions of it--if first by necessity, later through an evolution of choice. Was just curious if some wiinemakers have moved to the next stage and might be experimenting with it or other distinctive 'wild' yeasts, thus this thread. Risk factors seem more controllable in the craft beer context, but then again there have been a number of iconoclasts in the wine world over the years, too. Maybe that's a better subject for a thread.  ;-)

Am also specifically curious about what people over in Sardinia and Sicily, etc. might be doing...

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Reply by gregt, Apr 8.

My guess is that they're taking a page from Planeta and cleaning up! I'd think that the traditional wines were pretty full of contaminants, just as they were in most places.

If there were some way to control brett, it could add some interesting notes. But unfortunately, wine isn't handled like milk, with temp control from source to destination.

One day . . .

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Reply by JonDerry, Apr 8.

Last real barnyard heavy wine I had was an L'Aventure Rose at their tasting room in November 2011.

I'd recommend asking the berserkers...else I can ask them for you.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 8.

Jon, please go ahead. I have an account at Berserkers but it's pretty much dormant right now and don't know how much time I'll have in next week or two. Was hoping to stimulate something here, but some back and forth accessing their knowledge can also work.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 9.

I enjoy wines that may have a small taint of brett, although we don't always know for certain what causes a particularly barnyardy flavor IMO.  There's always been this supposition that Mourvedre is somehow hospitable to brett or handles it better and I like some of the funk in mourvedre that I've been told was a result of brett.  Brett gets out of control so fast and then is so hard to bring back to an acceptable level from what I have read that it seems close to suicidal to start messing with it.  And you can't pasteurize wine when you've got the amount of contamination/inoculation you want.  Not the same as stopping fermentation of sugar to ETOH via yeast--that's been mastered. 

Funny because while D was gone there was a whole post about wild yeasts that I think JenniferT started. No time to look for it, but if there's a microbe that anyone could taste (or its effects), it's brett.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 9.

Yeah, I ran across Jennifer's thread in a search, but was aiming for something different here in this one.

Why is it that certain people can go to town dosing with brett in the beer context and create a demand for its effects, but then the whole community pulls out the garlic and crosses, and dogma, when it comes to wine? I have this gut feeling that someone must be playing around with it and other distinctive yeasty beasties, though seemingly under the radar.

Would be good to hear someone learned on the subject discourse about exactly how and why it's safer-and-easier in the brewing context, as opposed to all the sturm und drang regarding it's appearance in the winemaking process.

I really liked those older Beaucastels, though I've had plenty of other bretted wine that was more or less disgusting.

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Reply by JonDerry, Apr 9.

Ok, just put it up...here's the WB link:

Maybe this is the push I needed to finally try some Musar.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 9.

Thanks, Jon. Had a a little time to glance over (and post), before stepping out the door this morning.

Enjoyed that comment from one of the posters over there about how it's easy to offload bretted wine barrels to craft beer brewers...

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 10.

Just went and checked that Wine Berserker thread again, and it looks to be picking up a head of steam. 

Got a pointer there to a Wine Spectator article that I hadn't seen, which spotlights a recent UC Davis report on brettanomyces in wine. The article's a good one, not too long, and bears reading. Some highlights:

 

  • 'Mousey. Wet Dog. Burnt plastic. Barnyard. When wine fans hear these terms, they invariably think of a flawed wine. But what about cedar, tamarind, lavender and smoked meat? Would you associate those aromatics with something as sinister sounding as a “spoilage yeast”? According to new findings by the enology department at the University of California at Davis, all those aromatics have one thing in common: they can come from yeasts in the genus brettanomyces.'
  • '...according to the UC Davis team, brett yeasts can contribute aromas and flavors wine lovers enjoy, too. Linda Bisson, professor of yeast microbiology and functional genetics at U.C. Davis, and her colleague Lucy Joseph released a brett aroma wheel in January ... They identified 17 strains of brett yeast as positive and five as negative.'
  • 'The aroma wheel breaks down aromatics into categories such as putrid, spicy, fruity and animal, and then into more specific identifiers like marshy, black pepper, tamarind and wet dog. Bisson put the wheel to the test by buying 36 bottles sold at K&L Wine Merchants in California whose online tasting notes ...were not described as flawed or "bretty."  “All were positive for some Brett or lactics. Only 19 could be shown to have viable Brett; the other 17 had viable Lactobacillus/Pediococcus. Brett is commonly found together with the lactics so it makes it challenging to determine which organism made the character.”'
  • '...does this mean winemakers can wholeheartedly employ brettanomyces in their fermentation regimen? “I would say for most people the positives are not outweighing the risks," Bisson told Wine Spectator. "Brett is hypermutable and hypervariable. We think this variability in off-character expression is also due to masking effects in some wines that we and others have seen, but why and how the off-characters get masked is not known."'
  • 'Ask ... winemakers about brett, and some will say it must be avoided at all costs, while others say it can add positive elements to a wine in low amounts. ... said Bisson. "The bottom line is brett is not a yeast to be trusted. The negative characters can be overpowering.” Brettanomyces is hard to control. It can lurk in vineyards, or it can find its way into barrels or other storage containers and thereby contaminate an entire winery.'
  • ' “I think that ultimately we will understand enough about this yeast to be able to use it with confidence and control its activity in the winery," said Bisson... "I liken it to the malolactic fermentation, which was considered a spoilage fermentation 60 years ago.”'

 

Also saw references in the WB thread to Zelma Long (a true CA wine pioneer) back at Simi in the '80s consciously fermenting with brettanomyces, Minimus Wines in Oregon trying to make a riesling using only brettanomyces, two mystery wineries in WA that knowingly introduced brett into a syrah and a cab, and several jokes about past Tablas Creek brettiness and how they together with their ancestor in France have finally cleaned things up a bit. 

Looks like that thread will bear watching. Thanks for getting it started, JD.

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Reply by JonDerry, Apr 10.

Glad it worked out. Especially good info in that article. Seems like they could have a future yet, even if limited to small batch operators. 

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 10.

If she's likening it to malolactic, once it's tamed we're talking more than just small batches. 

It's personally interesting to me that Zelma Long was playing around with it 25 or more years ago. She was someone I noticed when she moved to Simi from Mondavi at the end of the '70s. I began a book project that was catalyzed by a Capra Press (small, cool, creative publishing operation out of Santa Barbara that unfortunately bit the dust awhile back) book of interviews with the pioneers in the CA wine industry circa end-'70s. I was going to use the model in another context and talked with the publisher, the compiler/interviewer and one or two of the winemakers so I could get a better feel for the process--while also talking with some experts in my field at UC Berkeley, etc. It was a richly intense couple of weeks back at the beginning of the '80s on that trip, but I had to cut it short because business changes back in Japan required some firefighting then longer term effort to change structures. Bottom line, the book got permanently shelved. I had planned to interview a couple more winemakers, and Zelma was next up at the point I had to pull the plug. Had done plenty of research on her and was looking forward to, amongst other things, a woman's perspective, which was so rare in those days. Wonder if we might've talked about brett, at that point in time.  ;-)

Below is a part of the Wikipedia page on Long, followed by a blurb for that book. If you can ever find it you should grab it. Very interesting then, and perhaps even more so now.

 

Long graduated from the Oregon State University in 1965 and had an internship at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, followed by a brief career as a dietician.[2][3] In 1966, her family purchased a hillside vineyard in the Napa Valley and her love of viticulture was born.[2] She then enrolled at theUniversity of California, Davis in 1968 and graduated in 1970, and was promoted to chief enologist at the Robert Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley in the boom of the 1970s, between 1973 and 1979.[3] Robert Mondavi considered her departure from the company in 1979 as one of his biggest losses.[4] She became Vice President of Simi Winery in the Alexander Valley in 1979,[5] and after enrolling at Stanford University, became President and CEO from 1989 to 1996.[1][3] She is credited with breathing new life into Simi and modernizing it, introducing new winemaking techniques and establishing new vineyards.[6][1] She then served as Executive Vice President at Chandon Estates until 1999 when she committed herself to running Long Vineyards, which she established with her then-husband Bob Long in St. Helena, California in 1977.[3][2]

 

 

 

BENSON, ROBERT Great Winemakers of California
Capra Press, Santa Barbara, CA, 1977, 1st Ed. Hardbound. Conversations with Robert Benson. With a preface by Andre Tchelistcheff. 28 California winemakers discussing the myths and methodology of making great wines. Illustrated. LCCN 77-3888. 303 Pgs. ISBN: 0884961079.

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Reply by JonDerry, Apr 11.

Zelma Long sounds like quite an impactful figure...Im going to grab a '96 Simi Reserve at the local shop today...

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 11.

There is no accounting for taste, but as a freedom fighter who has trench credentials I defend the right of anyone to even curious tastes.  But Brett?

I have tasted many wines infected with this yeast and I guess I just cannot appreciate the taste.  Perhaps a niche market, but not this niche. A return to sanity, please.

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Reply by gregt, Apr 13.

I'd agree for the most part. Funny thing - I posted a long and tedious note on WB and it seems to have killed the thread.

Yes!!!!

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Reply by JonDerry, Apr 13.

Quite the bomb Greg...has been a fun discussion.

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