Articles & Newsletters

Spontaneous Fermentation with Ambient Yeast...

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

When you stick your nose deep into a freshly poured glass of wine, do you ever wonder if the aromas have already been determined?

Often when we think about terroir, we are focusing on the climate, soil types, aspect of the vineyard, elevation, etc… but one of the most important factors dictating a resulting wine is the human factor. Choices will have been made by the vigneron regarding whether a variety of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides have been applied to the grapes and vines, and how much... heavy use of these ‘cides’ can determine the health and existence of wild yeasts living in and around the vineyard, and directly on the grapes.

Upon picking, the vigneron then chooses whether to heavily sulphur the grapes to terminate any living yeasts that might interfere with the cultivated yeast they choose to inoculate their must with… one that will determine the development of particular nuances on the nose… particular fruit notes, or mouth feel… or rather to lightly sulphur, and encourage the health and growth of these wild yeasts that often begin the fermentation process, some die off, then others that for instance, can withstand higher alc. content may take over, and so on… each imparting their own particular nuances in the nose and the body of the finished wine, contributing to it’s complexity. This cycle continues, and it’s likely that as wild yeasts grow and die, the existing ambient yeast in the winery will likely take over and complete the fermentation. It can be a risky technique, as we all know, those precious musts can be costly to create, but with a super clean winery and equipment, close monitoring, and some temperature control, one can create a truly terroir driven wine. One that is representative of all of the factors mentioned earlier, plus the biological life in the vineyard and air. Risky business for sure, but when done well, can result in some outstanding wines.

Logo for Wendy Vallaster By Wendy Vallaster

Spontaneous fermentation in BC Chardonnay

Yeast Strain Development

Browning of the Must

Dwight Sick on Cultured Yeasts

Dwight Sick on the Spontaneous Fermentation

Pét-Nat! | Pétillant-Naturel | Méthode Ancestrale

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The French term Pétillant Natural refers to soft bubbles that have been naturally created.

...or as we would call it in English: Ancestral Method. Indeed, this is the oldest known method of sparkling wine making. The idea, is to bottle partially fermented red, white or rosé wine and leave it continue to ferment in the bottle. Some gas will be formed in the bottle as a by-product of the alcoholic fermentation... not quite as much as in the traditional method where one is adding yeast and sugar to an already fermented dry wine creating 5 to 7 atmospheres of pressure (so, super bubbly). Most Pét-Nats are finished somewhere around the 2.5 to 3 atmosphere mark and are lightly bubbly, some retaining a little residual sugar as well, which if were the case would have a slightly lower alc./vol. level. A few degrees less than the wine would normally be if fermented totally dry, where the yeast will have devoured all of the sugar and made alc. of it : ) It is the tradition also, to neither filter nor disgorge a Pét-Nat, in which case a wine develops that will throw sediment, retained in the bottle of the finished wine. In serving it, you can choose to gently reincorporate it into the wine before opening (the crown/screw cap) or gently pour the wine off of the sediment. I recommend you serve it chilled to bring out the fun, fruity notes.

It is a wine style that focuses on a fresh, fruity profile. They are not meant to spend a long time with the spent yeast cells (where those toasty, nutty, brioche notes come from in an aged on the lees, traditional method wine). Try them with a cheese and charcuterie plate, throw on a little fresh fruit, nuts, and you’ll see how well the Pét-Nats compliment it all. There are a few BC Pét-Nats kicking around the wine scene here... seek them out and give them a try!! It might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Logo for Wendy Vallaster By Wendy Vallaster

BC Authorises 6 New Subregions!

Monday, August 15, 2022

  1. East Kelowna Slopes
  2. South Kelowna Slopes
  3. Lake Country
  4. Summerland Valleys
  5. Summerland Bench
  6. Summerland Lakefront

Well, aren't we growing up?!! With 6 new subregions recently announced, it brings the total up to eleven in the Okanagan alone, and an additional subregion within the Vancouver Island GI. To break it down a bit, our 9 GI’s or Geographic Indications are: FRASER VALLEY, GULF ISLANDS, KOOTNEYS, LILLOOET, OKANAGAN VALLEY (including the 11 subregions of East Kelowna Slopes, golden Mile Bench, Golden Mile Slopes, Lake Country, Okanagan Falls, Naramata Bench, Skaha Bench, South Kelowna Slopes, Summerland Bench, Summerland Lakefront, and Summerland Valleys), SHUSWAPS, SIMILKAMEEN VALLEY, THOMPSON VALLEY, AND VANCOUVER ISLAND (including the Cowichan Valley subregion).

We can note that GI’s on the wine label note where the grapes are grown, (95% must come from the GI or sub GI names) not necessarily where the winery is located. The whole idea behind creating these GI’s is to inform the consumer of the origin of the wine. From there, we can begin to delve into the broader sense of place via a general Geographical area, and further, investigate the climate, soil types, altitudes, etc. that a subregion might have that can be notes in the nature of the wines that come from them. These are wines that we may call ‘terroir driven’. They represent these particular aspects of a notable growing area with specific geographical and topographical characteristics. We can expect, for instance, the wines that are created from more northern sourced vineyards in say the THOMPSON GI to have a brighter, more acidic profile. This is due to the way that grapes develop in cooler climates, with less sunlight hours, and cooler nights. Wines derived from the vineyards in the OKANAGAN GI, and particularly the GOLDEN MILE sub GI that practically hug the Canada USA border can be expected to display lush, deeply coloured red wines with a firm structure for which to wrap the layers of seductive well ripened fruit profiles, with tannin structure that is firm, but not astringent. The grapes this far south enjoy plenty of heat, and sunlight hours so the phenolic components that lay just beneath the skins of the grapes develop nicely. This is where the colour pigments develop, esters that we can interpret via the aromatic profile, and tannins that in a fully ripened grape, show smooth but firm in the finished wine. It’s why we grow many of the Bordeaux grape varieties as far south as possible.

As we move northward into the subregions of OKANAGAN FALLS and the NARAMATA BENCH we can notice that Pinot Noir vineyards are very healthy, seeming to thrive in the terroir there, and producing gorgeous, terroir driven wine. Heading east into the KOOTNAYS GI with fewer sunlight hours and heat degree days, we can again feel the cooler climate aspect in the nature of the wines coming from this area… they are a little lighter, fresher, and with delicate aromatic profiles. Moving through the SIMILKAMEEN VALLEY GI when we taste the wines we can feel that the wines are subject to cool evening winds, so although they get some fantastic sunlight hours, and heat during the day, they also develop freshness that comes from the high mountains on each side of the valley creating an early sunset, and from the chilly winds that blow through the valley.

VANCOUVER ISLAND GI covers a fairly diverse set of growing conditions with much higher rainfall than we experience further inland… here we are able to find grapes that make fruit forward sparkling wine, fresh summer sippers, and as the area matures we are finding some well made reds as well. Hybrid grapes have been key to the development of the growing area as there are many that have been developed that are resistant to the fungal diseases that might cause havoc in the more humid environment of the west coast. In the COWICHAN VALLEY sub GI white German grape varieties do very well, as well as Gamay Noir and some of the PInot’s. Wines with tension… creating the notoriety needed to become a unique Vancouver Island subregion. The GULF ISLANDS GI produce a fairly small quantity of wine, but have their own unique growing conditions too. Many of the Gulf Islands have a dry climate and exist on bedrock with very little topsoil and a good amount of sunlight hours as you move further south.

Our new 6 sub GI’s highlight some of BC’s more recent producers and will bring recognition to the wines coming from these uniquely specific wine growing areas. As these wine projects and regions grow and mature in their own right, we as consumers will have a front seat to the development of wine style and craftsmanship in the making of the wines that hail from them. One of the wonderful things about existing in a new and developing winegrowing area of the planet, is that we have SO MUCH ROOM TO LEARN AND GROW!! We are now beginning to see what grape varieties do well in each particular terroir and that’s an accomplishment! Let’s sit back with a glass of BC wine in hand, and enjoy the journey ;)

Logo for Wendy Vallaster By Wendy Vallaster

Monday, August 1, 2022

Vineyard Ground Crop Cover

Storks Bill which can create a lovely carpet of tiny purply-pink flowers early spring is one of the commonly planted vineyard cover herbs here in our Okanagan vineyards.

As our BC wineries and viticulturists find workable solutions to the effects of climatechange, we are beginning to see a much wider use of cover crops in our vineyards. Vineyard cover crops can contribute immensely to the health of the soil, including water retention, contributing to drought resilience by increasing soil organic matter (over time), increased water infiltration and water holding capacity. Additionally they can deposit and set additional nutrients into the soil while assisting in nutrient cycling. For instance, clover and other legumes can set much needed nitrogen into the soil, which the vines can later make use of. Soil erosion is also reduced with the use of cover crops and with many of our Okanagan vineyards planted firmly in an ever so delicate silty, loamy, bench land soil... a type that drifts away with the lightest disturbance, it is a good thing!

Flowering cover crops can attract beneficial parasitic insects that prey on vineyard pests. By increasing their habitat we can draw them into the vineyard as well as attract vertebrates that can assist in rodent population in and around the vineyards (another pesky Okanagan issue). With the advent of chemical pesticides, unfortunately, the benefit of pest control with natural parasitic insects has long since been forgotten. There are some very interesting ongoing studies that link the conservation of natural habitat with reduces pest problems in winegrowing areas. Hopefully soon we will see the use of inter-vine mulching as an alternative to spraying glyphosate which we are now finding can reduce cold hardiness in some vine species and cause issues that have long been attributed to frost damage, like trunk die back due to trunk splitting. Perhaps the world could use a little less of it. New tractor attachments called finger weeders that go in and around the vines sort of grubbing up all the weeds, are a great alternative. David and Cynthia Enns, of 1Mill Rd have one in use now, and I am certain we will see more of them in use. Step by step, our growers continue to rise to the occasion!

Logo for Wendy Vallaster By Wendy Vallaster

Monday, July 19, 2021


in the midst of climate change

With all of the buzzing overhead of helicopters and the roaring of water bombers over these hot summer BC days, one might think that our wine world is in dire straights. And, it’s not only us here in BC, but Australia, California/Sonoma, Spain, and Portugal have seen crazy levels of fires rip- ping through their vineyards too. This, it seems, is becoming the norm. One of the effects these fires have in our wine regions is the drifting in of smoke clouds that sometimes just hang there, shrouding the vineyards. If the fire is close enough, we might even see particles of ash settling on the grapes and vines, and it is possible that these smoke particles may be absorbed by both.

We have all heard the words ‘smoke taint’ being tossed around our wine world over the past few years. We may wonder what the term means, exactly, and how it could affect our wine drinking experiences.

"Smoke is an aerosol of small solid particles and/or liquid droplets. The composition varies de- pending on the type of material burned, and the intensity of the heat." (Scott Labs)

Smoke taint, is the result of the absorption of smoke compounds by the grapes either directly, or via leaf exposure through the vine. It can vary from a mild toasty nuance, which some might say enhances the complexity of a wine, to an unquestionable presence of unpleasant organoleptic notes that may smell or taste smoky, spicy, plastic-like or even like a dirty ashtray. Not good. it is important to note, that low levels of some of these compounds exist naturally in wine, and levels of the free compounds can naturally become elevated during aging. We need then to really know our wines, so we can correctly identify when it is actual smoke taint that we are seeing.

One of the really interesting factors is that these smoke compounds can bind to the sugars and other compounds found in the grapes after permeating the skins, and therefore can go un-noticed until during or after fermentation... if or when the compounds become free, or unbound. When the smoke compounds are bound, they appear odourless and tasteless. When they are released and made free during fermentation or aging, the smoke aromas and flavours are then made apparent. So, a wine can appear clean pre-fermentation, and later show smoke taint! Tricky.

This calls for plenty of smoke taint marker testing ahead of harvest so that the winemaking team knows what they are up against, and a micro pre-harvest fermentation test will often give an ex- ample of what they will be dealing with once they enter into full scale production and fermentation during the harvest season.

The awesome news is that there have been many researchers and scientists working behind the scenes to find ways for our wine makers to test for, mitigate and even remove those smoke com- pounds present, so much so that one would never know they had infiltrated the grapes (and wine) in the first place!

With regards to testing, Leonard Lermer, Research Bio-chemist at BCBTAC and Chair of the Chemistry dept at OK College has been "developing a process to obtain a quantitative analysis of not only the 3 most common smoke taint compounds (guaiacol, 4-methylguaiacol, and p. cresol), but a more comprehensive analysis of up to 20. New testing methodology will positively identify both bound and free smoke taint compounds, which will be very useful to the industry."

Leonard says also that "This methodology is in it's early stages, but the BTAC is on top of it!"

Additionally, the TAC is experimenting with a new Reverse Osmosis system with varying types and sizes of membrane filters. This will allow winemakers to have a bench scale test performed on a small amount of their wine and then know how it will show post RO. Providing this service gives winemakers the insight they require to make an informed decision regarding the finishing of their wine. The BCBTAC’s mission is to provide analytical services to the producers in the BC beverage industry.

Preventative processes are key, and can range from a simple careful sorting of grapes from leaves, as leaves can also absorb smoke compounds, the least amount of contaminated raw ma- terial going into the wine the better... and keeping the grapes nice and cool so that the skins will not rupture prematurely, to minimizing the amount of time exposed to the skins (for whites and rose ´s) pre-fermentation.

Aromatic compounds and colour can be protected (from migrating smoke taint compounds re- maining in must solids after pressing) by a rapid and timely clarification of must with relatively high doses of fining agents like bentonite, carbon, and silica gel combined with gelatine. And, there have been some good results encouraging pleasing esters and fruity notes by lifting the must off of the solids with pre-fermentation racking.

Carefully controlled fermentations with the right yeast, at the right temperatures are key to hang- ing on to those great fruit aromas and tastes that we want to remain in the wine and the fermenta- tions can be augmented by strategically incorporated yeast nutrients at just the right time.

Post-fermentation, racking off of the lees again will prevent migration of smoke taint particles that have precipitated out of the wine along with the spent yeast cells (the lees). This, followed by a good fining and filtering program and testing before bottling will be the last mitigating step before the wine arrives at our dinner tables.

These are but a few examples of some best practices currently being used in dealing with smoke taint compounds in winemaking. Lucky for us, the options are diverse, there are many, and they keep growing.

We can see then, that with careful attention to detail, new methodologies, and enhanced knowl- edge of what is actually taking place throughout the entire winemaking process, that there are many preventative steps that can be taken to end up with the aromatic, clean and expressive wines we are used to. And so it seems, we are well covered!

Finding ways to live with climate change can be tough as the world changes, but for all of us avid wine aficionados we can at the very least, be confident that we may continue enjoying gorgeous, complex and clean BC wines from our beloved and diverse BC terroir.

by Wendy Vallaster, Certified Sommelier ISG International Wine & Hospitality Professional of 30yrs+

References -

MDPI Review of the Effects of Grapevine Smoke Exposure and Technologies to Assess Smoke Contamination and Taint in Grapes and Wine

Scott Labs - What to do with grapes exposed to smoke taint

Logo for Wendy Vallaster By Wendy Vallaster