All posts by A Cassese


For as long as anyone can remember, there has never been a year as perplexing as 2017, with drastic weather patterns that greatly affected the growing season. Extreme temperatures in both directions of the thermometer significantly impacted quantity and quality, having left winemakers helpless in the face of Mother Nature. An unusual and unexpected frost in late April killed buds that were just forming, greatly reducing yields for many, while a heatwave in July caused drought and extreme dryness, burning leaves and grapes alike and dehydrating the soils to desert-like conditions. But all is not lost: while quantity is down, quality is absolutely not.



Assolenologi estimates a 25% reduction in production due to weather phenomena, coming in at about 41 million hectoliters.


Quality will vary from region to region, and vineyard to vineyard with many, many points of excellence from the top to the bottom of the boot.


The growth cycle began early due to high April temperatures that were halted by uncharacteristic frost in late April. Spring was mild and summer hot, but excellent day/night temperature swings kept things in balance. Ripening was slow, leading to excellent maturation and there were no problems with disease or pests. Ferghettina’s Laura Gatti best summarizes what happened for most in Franciacorta: “Harvest 2017 is marked by great damage caused by overnight frost conditions 19-21 April. The temperatures those three nights dropped significantly below zero compromising the development of buds and clusters. Quantity is down about 50%. However, in vineyards unaffected by the frost, grapes matured wonderfully. In fact, the rest of the season was perfect and the wines currently in the cellar are high level. So what do you usually say in these cases? Quality not quantity, and excellent quality at that!” We also spoke to Giulia Gatti of Enrico Gatti, who gave a technical outlook of how their vineyards were affected. “Compared to other years, the growth cycle began about a month early. But in mid-April, Franciacorta was affected by unforeseen frost.  At the time, the buds were about 15 centimeters long and the vineyards most affected were those half way up the hill. Fortunately, the plants did not die, but the buds were completely desiccated. Usually, plants have three buds, the main one and the secondary and tertiary buds and one of those two could continue the cycle, but there is no guarantee it will produce grapes. In fact, after about three weeks, the growth cycle began once again but unfortunately, grapes were not produced. In the few cases where grapes grew, the quantity was scarce. However, the vineyards high on the hill, which are dedicated to our millesimati were unaffected. Unfortunately, it hailed in the first week of June, damaging the vineyards with a 25-40% loss. The weather was normal until the end of July when the heat wave came. We harvested 11-16 August. In other words, this vintage has proven to be quite complicated. We tried to extract the best possible quality, which is what we always strive for and are able to attain, also thanks to the right position and composition of the vines.” In general, Lombardia is down 25%.


Piedmont won’t soon forget the spring frost, drought and heat of 2017. It was the tenth warmest winter in 60 years. They did get about 104 millimeters of rain, but it is still about 40% less than normal. Spring was the third warmest in 60 years. It was a long, hot summer with temperatures as high as 104 °F and harvest began early for most of the varieties. Manuel Marchetti explains what happened at Marcarini: “Harvest 2017 took place much earlier than normal, perhaps it was even a record. The ripening of many varieties overlapped making the decisions and the work in the cellar very difficult. Hail and frost in the beginning of the season in some areas also made things challenging. For example, our Moscato grapes got hit in March. Fortunately, we didn’t have any more hail, but we did have a long period of drought, which has continued through to today. These conditions have benefited the health of the grapes and the concentration as well, but it has reduced the yield. All in all, the results are optimal and we have wonderful wines. I am sure this prediction will be confirmed in the future.” We talked to Giuseppe Marengo of Ca’ Rome’ who said, “The 2017 vintage is considered a good one; the wines have high alcohol, good acidity and low yields, due to the hot and dry weather. Our wines will be more ready to drink with riper tannins. We started out with a mild winter with very little snow. But we’ll always remember this year for its drastically low springtime temps that caused damage in many areas of Le Langhe. We were really lucky that we weren’t affected by the April frost, having vineyards in higher Serralunga and different Barbaresco locations.  September was hot and dry, but fortunately, we also had some rain and low temperatures, bringing necessary diurnal temperature changes. These factors – crucial to these grapes – greatly helped polyphenolic maturation of our Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes. Matteo Sardagna at Einaudi explains that things in terms of the weather, aren’t much different for their winery, explaining that when the temperatures finally broke in September, the grapes that most benefitted from were Barbera and Nebbiolo. He says the “alcohol levels are important but not too far from the average (with excellent pH as well). We will remember 2017 as one of the most precocious, seeing as harvest began weeks early.”  Beatrice Gaudio agrees wholeheartedly, “2017 was one of the most unusual in history. Surely the high summer temperatures and lack of real precipitation made the grapes and their sensorial characteristics quite particular. The color, tannins and therefore strong structure truly stand out. This is because the skins were quite thick to protect the berries from the strong sun rays that started in June. Not pruning provided protection and helped the photosynthesis process continue at full strength, avoiding scorching burns. In addition, working the land through aeration (deep ripping and milling) and the use of organic fertilizer helped the vines find nutrition in the soil. The aromas are quite particular, thanks to the diurnal temperature changes in late August/early September. The varieties that suffered the least during the heat wave are those that ripen early, but we assure you that in spite of the odd weather, the quality of all the wines in the cellar is very good to excellent. Surprisingly, the acidity is also lovely and quite high, making these wines suitable for long aging, which will be great for the Barberas and Grignolinos since they have great tannic structure and will need evolution in barrel and bottle.”



Winter was mild, but very dry, causing the vines to die in the lower valleys. The growth cycle began without any problems, but frost arrived, killing off large amounts of vineyards in certain areas, especially those growing Marzemino and Pinot Grigio. There were also a few hailstorms that caused damage.  Temperatures in May and June were higher than normal and summer was hot and dry, but the grapes were able to mature well and quality is expected to be very high. In fact, Andi Punter of Franz Haas explains, “It was a difficult year, with the frost in April and hail in May, and an even stronger hailstorm on 9 August. Even during harvest, the weather was instable, especially in the first three weeks. We began picking around 11 September. In any case, we are very happy with the quality of the grapes, but we are suffering a bit for the quantity. We finished harvesting last week with the Pinot Nero grapes grown at high altitudes.” Quantity in the region will be down 10%.


Winter started out warm but then the cold finally arrived. It was also quite dry creating drought right away and about 2,000 hectares were affected by the April frost. There were also a few episodes of hail and as a result, winemakers lost about 15%. Summer was long, hot and dry, but thanks to winds in August, temps reduced and much needed day/night temperature swings helped the grapes ripen perfectly. Overall quality is expected to be very good.


The growth cycle began about 10 days early and things were going well until the April frost hit, which wiped out a lot of vineyards at lower elevations. Things smoothed out in the region and vines affected by frost were able to produce fruit through the secondary buds. Summer was hot, and there were a few hailstorms and whirlwinds that further damaged the area. The quality, however, is still looking as if it will be better than good, but quantity will be down about 15%. Davide Del Cero, vineyard manager for Corte Giacobbe tells us about their experience: “The 2017 vintage will be remembered as one of the hottest and driest of the last century. We had a very unusual spring with frost that compromised the lower vineyards (luckily Tenuta Corte Giacobbe is on the hill so there was no damage). Because our vineyards are located above an inactive volcano, they need heat to ripen. The grapes were beautiful this year and they weren’t affected by the lack of water. Our wines will be structured but will have great acidity that will help them age well. We did make a bit less than usual but the quality will absolutely be better than average.“


Tuscany will be down a whopping 30% this vintage. The April frost irregularly affected the region. In Montalcino for example, the cold winds responsible for the frost literally “jumped” over the mountain, hence wineries, leaving some with 70% losses and others with only 30% reductions. The summer season was scorching for everyone, but again with varying results. Andrea Costanti of Costanti confirms that “In spite of summer being hot and dry, we picked exceptional grapes. This year truly highlighted the different areas of Montalcino and our area, being higher up and cooler, was absolutely privileged. Furthermore, we began harvest around 18 September, about 10 days earlier than usual for us and in any case, we were one of the last to pick in Montalcino. There will be a slight reduction in quantity due to the lack of water.”


Jacopo Morganti of Il Molino di Grace tells us what happened in Panzano: “We finished harvest last week, a bit earlier than usual; after the April frost and the long dry summer, we were very surprised by the perfect quality of the grapes, how well they ripened and their health. However we are very upset about the low production. But that is all part of the game. With the arrival of rain in early September things substantially changed for the better.  The grapes are perfect with alcohol around 14%, with excellent structure and color and very high quality. From an agronomist point of view, it was an easy year with no disease or rot, but a difficult one because of the frost and heat wave. Then again Sangiovese loves heat more than rain and this year it is truly perfect, crisp and spicy on the palate.”
Molino di Grace


Marche is also looking at a large reduction this year. Spring was mild, with very little rain, and frost hit this area too. Temperatures were higher than average and because there was not much in the way of water reserves, this June and July were difficult months. July reached never-before highs for the third year in a row. Veraison and ripening took place at least three weeks early and harvest was also early. In spite of problems and the 25% reduction in quantity, quality still looks good with many areas of excellence.


Winter was very cold and rainy, even snowy at times, but spring was mostly mild. The April frost caused massive damage and production is down 40%, even up to 80% in places where the buds were already well developed. Summer was long and dry with very few day/night temperature swings, giving grapes little time to recuperate. Still, quality looks good for Umbria. Peter Heilbron of Tenuta Bellafonte gives us his take.  “This vintage was dry, also because of the spring freeze that especially affected the lower vineyards. Ours are hilly with good elevation, so they were not distressed by the cold, and during the hot, dry summer, they benefited from relatively cool nights. The fact that the soil was well worked and that we don’t use herbicides allowed the roots to seek humidity deep down, making sure they suffered less the lack of rain. The result is an earlier harvest with extremely healthy grapes but lower production than last year. They are more concentrated yielding less wine. Even though production is limited, we are sure we will have excellent quality wines.”


This eastern Italian region will forever remember 2017 for record-breaking temperatures and out-of-the-ordinary weather events. The winter snowstorm the area experienced was the biggest seen in the last hundred years. It was followed by the freeze experienced in all of Italy and one of the driest summers on record. Oddly, the winter snowstorm actually saved later-ripening varieties from the frost as the growth cycle was delayed about two weeks. The summer was long and hot with a few hailstorms. Production is down about 30% over last year. Il Feuduccio’s enologist Romano D’Amario explains what this means for them: “In regards to white grapes, there was very little rain during June, July and August and this guaranteed the health of the grapes while irrigation was needed for the more sensitive varieties. The must appears more harmonious than last year and the wine should be more complex on the nose and “full” on the palate. For red grapes, this harvest will be remembered for its low yield due to the persistent high daytime temperatures and the substantial drought in September and early October.  On the flip side, there were drastic drops in overnight temperatures. These weather patterns left us with a must with high sugar and low acidity, assuring wines with high alcohol and phenols. These wines will be very suitable to aging, even for long periods.”


Interesting about Campania is that temperatures were quite low over winter, even lower than average. Snowcapped mountains also helped replenish water reserves and spring was mild, seeing very little rain. The April frost did lower temperature and some early-ripening varieties were affected, but quite sporadically in the region. After the frost, things went back to normal and the growth cycle continued normally until summer, which was one of the hottest it has been in 15 years with record-breaking highs throughout the season. Harvest began early and quality is expected to be quite good and even quantity will be 5% higher than last year.



The winter season had an enormous influence over the growth cycle in this region. Winter was colder than average and spring was mild with little rain. A warm April favored early budding, which was interrupted by the same frost, greatly reducing production potential. The hot summer caused water stress and harvest began about ten days early. The region is expecting a reduction of about 30% in quantity. White varieties will be higher in alcohol, but will seemingly preserve their fine quality. Reds will have excellent structure, concentration and mature tannins.


Cool winters and a dry spring led to an even drier summer for the island. It seemed to have rained once in spring and then once again in early October. Sicily has never seen such fiery, relentless heat, with summer temperatures reached as high as 115 °F even touching 122 °F inland! As a result, extensive damage was done to farming. On average, harvest took place much earlier with a 35% reduction in quantity. Things went better on Etna for the mere reason that it is high above the sea. Michele Faro of Pietradolce gives us an explanation: “2017 was hot and dry and lasted a very long time. Our first rainfall after five months was last week! We are currently picking; we just finished whites and are working on the reds. On Etna, we were lucky that the scorching heat we had was balanced by the high altitude (3,000 feet above sea level) so the wines will absolutely have structure and body and will maintain the elegance and freshness typical of this area.”



The island was so varied, with high highs and low lows across the entire island. It is difficult to generalize because of such drastic differences so we went directly to our producers.  Raffaele Cani of Santadi explains that the weather for 2017 was “unusual even for Sardinia, with the almost total absence of rain and torrid heat that lasted for months. In Sulcis, in southwestern Sardinia where we are, the sandy, clayey soil (which maintains humidity), emergency irrigation, and [good] management of the quantity produced per plant, allowed us to come out in the end with an almost normal harvest. Though we will be down about 15% in quantity. At the moment our wines are not done, but from our early tests, they are rich in aromas with excellent body and structure. We needed to watch our whites closer, for pH and acidity, but the results are wines with interesting aromatics, supported by their typical minerality, good acidity and balanced alcohol. The Tre Torri Rosato has a brilliant clear rose color. The Carignano is typically ample on the nose with intense mineral notes and wonderful freshness.” Renato Spanu of Jankara explains, “This harvest was a struggle; the 2017 vintage will see 50% or less in production compared to previous vintages. The frost in mid-April burnt about 70% of the buds and the extreme heat and drought during the summer months guaranteed smaller production. However, the little amount of wine that is produced will be great quality and quite big in structure.”

The big takeaway for the 2017 vintage – aside from the great quality – is that things varied in Italy, from region to region, and zone to zone. It will be important this year to follow the words of individual winemakers and not general vintage reports.  All in all, it seems that while most of the wineries in Empson’s portfolio suffered some loss in terms of quantity, quality has hung on quite strong. Of course it means Mother Nature was kinder to them, but it is also due to the great skill and foresight of our outstanding winemakers in managing what was handed to them.


55597543_bottiglie_rucolinoThis year, the world’s most powerful leaders met for the G7 meeting in none other than Taormina, Sicily. They met to discuss foreign policy, the global economy, the migration crisis and equality.

You can imagine, they were served the best of the best for meals and that includes after-dinner digestifs.  As a matter of fact, our very own Rucolino was served! We hope these political leaders enjoyed it as much as we do! Cin-cin!






PIETRADOLCE Barbagalli 2014


IL FEUDUCCIO Ursonia Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2013


FRANZ HAAS Pinot Nero Schweizer 2013


SANTADI Latinia 2011


FERGHETTINA Pas Dosé 33 2010


TENUTA BELLAFONTE Montefalco Sagrantino Collenottolo 2013


VILLA BUCCI Verdicchio Classico Superiore 2016


RONCO DEI TASSI Collio Bianco Fosarin 2015


BOSCARELLI Nobile di Montepulciano Il Nocio 2013


SPERI Amarone della Valpolicella Vign. Monte Sant’Urbano 2013


Ca’ Rome’ Barbaresco Maria di Brün




boscarelli-sign-croppedVino Nobile di Montepulciano has never really received the attention it deserves. Unless we are talking about the Renaissance period when it was favored by kings and popes, even setting the bar for quality for Italian wines from north to south. Now in 2017, six of the top Nobile producers have set out on a mission to promote this wine, which boasts extraordinary balance and identifiable flavor, the world over, with the aim of giving it the recognition it deserves.  They’ve formed the Alliance Vinum, a sort of unofficial spinoff of the ninety-member Consorzio, which earnestly set out to create opportunities for Nobile to showcase its true value, hoping that ultimately, its innate qualities will speak for themselves.


The six wineries involved – Salcheto, Poliziano, La Braccesca, Dei, Avignonesi, and our own Boscarelli  – have organized events all over Italy and the world (the first was in New York in partnership with Vine Pair, and there are upcoming events in Texas and Piedmont), inviting the press, buyers and sommeliers. But that is not all they’ve done. They’ve also each created a flagship wine, to be presented as a “symbol of excellence” at these events. Boscarelli’s happens to be a cru right next to Il Nocio, brimming with the same quality you get from Il Nocio.

The Nobile wine-growing area is not vast – only about 1,300 hectares/3,200 acres – making it a small community, full of like-minded winemakers who often face similar viticultural issues, especially concerning climate, and often share the same clayey/sandy soil, even if it can differ from vineyard to vineyard and plot to plot.  The climate is generally continental, but the weather is mitigated by nearby lakes and a constant breeze. There are two lakes – Trasimeno and Chiusi – to the east and northeast that make the air tepid and slightly humid. It is always breezy but the air is not crystal-clear because of the above-mentioned humidity. This lack of transparency essentially filters the sunlight allowing for slower ripening, less sunburn and better concentration of anthocyanins. Sangiovese needs to ripen slowly, and the area’s day/night temperature swings are also often beneficial to the grapes, giving them the opportunity to cool down and recharge themselves, for the following hot day.


This interesting weather pattern may pose a question: Does the humidity sometimes create problems? The answer is yes, with peronospora. However winemaking has been going on in Montepulciano since the Etruscan period, thus vintners have been able to carry forth the knowledge needed to fight this water mold. So it rarely causes significant damage.

Luca De Ferrari gets right to the point when we sat down with him to discuss Boscarelli’s participation in the Alliance.  “It is all about Sangiovese, known in these parts as Prugnolo Gentile. It is quite different from the clones used in Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. Sangiovese is very sensitive to climate and to the soil and the clones have adapted well to the unique microclimate of this area. If you watch clones taken from Chianti that have been planted here, you will see how they’ve acclimated to the local terroir. Every Sangiovese plant is characterized by its terroir. In Chianti, the grapes are small, while in Montalcino the grapes are big and oval-shaped. Here, my grandfather did a mass selection of grapes from Chianti, and they’ve since evolved into medium-sized grapes; not too big, not too tightly packed. But the main characteristic of Prugnolo Gentile is its enjoyable nature, beautiful fragrance, elegance, and balance, even right out of the gate,” explains Luca.  Notably, Nobile also has good aging potential. Thanks to the composition of the soil, mostly alluvial and sandy and full of fossils, the wines have a high percentage of tartaric acid. This means that the wines are lively, with great freshness, and a great ability to maintain a img_3955rich color.

Luca has been working side by side with enologist Maurizio Castelli since 1998 (though Castelli joined the team in 1983) and Mary Ferrara, who started in 2000. Castelli is quite familiar with both Brunello (working with Mastrojanni and Col d’Orcia) and Chianti (Badia di Coltibuono) and his goal has always been to create “important” wines. At the same time, Luca’s ultimate goal has always been to create a naturally balanced wine that is like that from day one and stays that way throughout its entire lifespan. Along with the winery’s matriarch and driving force, Paola De Ferrari Corradi, this enological trio has been able to achieve both.

But even so, Nobile has only recently begun to regain warranted attention and the Alliance wants to strike while the iron is hot, swiftly capitalizing on this moment with the intention of increasing recognition even more. “We are a small, close-knit group of lively, dynamic wineries that have the resources and time to dedicate to truly promoting Nobile all over the world. The Sangiovese grape is the focus of this endeavor and, in fact, each winery has developed a wine made with 100% Sangiovese grapes.” Historically, Nobile has been made with complementary native grapes that help achieve that sought-after balance, so why focus only on Sangiovese? “While it may be true that there are certain parts of Montepulciano that complementary grapes are needed, there are others that absolutely don’t. And we feel that Sangiovese best represents the terroir of this area, as it is the most sensitive to its different features.” In a word, Prugnolo Gentile gives drinkers a broader understanding of Montepulciano wines.  Each winery is making somewhere between 3,500 and 10,000 bottles of the DOCG wine in a limited-edition format that is being presented at wine events in various cities. Luca continued, “Nobile is not new. It has centuries of history behind it. The quality is well-known. It was even a favorite of President Jefferson. We don’t have to “invent” anything. We just have to show the world what Nobile is, and what it has. And up until now, we haven’t been able to keep up.” We asked Luca, who happens to be the vice president of the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, why there was a need for an alliance when there is already a Consorzio whose mission is to promote the DOCG area.  “We wanted to move faster and we have the ability to invest more,” he said. “We are not in competition with the Consorzio and hope to work side by side, just at a faster pace.” While there are only six wineries participating, everyone benefits in the end.  “In creating the alliance, we are doing what we couldn’t have done alone. There is strength in numbers and it is a great source of pride for all of us.” And in fact, the Alliance Vinum’s motto speaks of individual humility and collective pride.


Indeed, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – Nobile for short – needs no bells and whistles. It is a versatile, accessible, ageable wine with unparalleled elegance and poise. It is a wine that speaks for itself and the alliance’s goal is simply to give it a louder voice and a stage to stand upon.  “We are really excited about the Alliance. Especially because we are fulfilling my grandfather’s dream, which was to promote this wonderful land and its wine,” Luca said proudly.


Brunello is what comes to mind when people think of Tuscany and its pristine, characteristic landscape of rolling hills, cypress trees and never-ending sunshine. After all, Tuscany is the birthplace of one of the most sought-after wines in the world. And when you get the opportunity to drink one of the best, it is often palate changing. It is difficult to go back to any old wine when you could be drinking the best.

In Decanter’s August 2017 issue, many of the best examples of Brunello were reviewed and those receiving high marks were featured.

Make no mistake, Fuligni was one of them.

Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino 2012 received a beautiful 96 points, reminding us that the best examples are made by those who take great care in cultivating the grapes and in how they vinify and age the wine.



When you receive an award from IWSC, you certainly feel like your hard work is being recognized. After all, “With 47 years’ experience, the IWSC is widely recognized as the original, the most prestigious and the most respected wine and spirit competition in the world.”

This competition is especially interesting because it takes the tastings so seriously. They take place throughout seven months of the year, are double blind, and the tasting panel consists of seven expert tasters. They also do a full chemical analysis on every wine.

See the awards below:





Truth be told, receiving a score just a mere two points shy of a perfect one hundred is truly magical. Andrea Costanti is fortunate enough to see his hard work recognized with just such a score, and more than once. After last’s years 98 from Antonio Galloni, this year, Wine Enthusiast awarded Costanti’s Brunello di Montalcino 2012 with a well-deserved 98 points, proving once again that not all Brunellos are created the same.

Wine Access wrote a lovely article featuring the 2012 vintage and Costanti’s top-rated Brunello:

“Leading the way on many scorecards, including our own, was Andrea Costanti’s brilliant red-ruby stunner. Culled from less than 30 acres of vines in the high-elevation, northern reaches of Montalcino, Costanti’s 2012 epitomizes the classic, seductive side of the region, offering up Burgundian aromatics and the richest Pinot Noir-like concentration and balance, all stapled together with a splash of Brunello rusticity.

Deep red-ruby to the rim. On the nose, red currant, dark plum, ripe cherry, and kirsch are mixed with textbook floral tones and dried-flower minerality. The attack is rich and plush, showing off the extreme ripeness of that hot summer. Silken in texture, showing restraint and sweetness, finishing with the superb tannin structure that has always distinguished Costanti’s finest and most age-worthy Brunellos. Drink now (only if you’re horribly impatient) or do as we always do and lay down the top Brunello of the vintage for 10-15 years.”



Monte Antico and Red Grapes

Looking for a reason to buy that next bottle of wine? Well, look no further! New Zealand-based blog Jen Reviews has provided readers with a whopping fifteen health benefits of drinking wine, written by Jesse Miller. She talks about longevity, heart health, Alzheimer’s disease, liver function, stroke, eyesight and even depression! If you want to read all about it, click here!

Empson reminds you though, drink responsibly….and drink well!



Toronto Life has released a short list for “the best international bottles of white wine from the LCBO,” which is “one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of beverage alcohol,” located in Canada. Considering LCBO has 650 retail stores with over 225 agency stores, as well as catalogs and special order services, and offers 24,000 products annually to Canada’s wine and spirits’ drinking community, it was quite an honor to see Bollini Pinot Grigio listed!

Read below for the stunning review:

Bollini 2015 Pinot Grigio

$17.95 | Trentino, Italy | 88 points

Bollini has produced a very fruity young pinot grigio (more so than most pinot grigios from Italy) with generous poached pear, yellow plum, grapefruit and honeysuckle florality. Despite the ripeness, this vintage is lively and a touch spritzed with alcohol warmth. Chill well before serving.

To check out the full article, click here.


marcarini-estate-sm-2Yeast is a subject that will generally turn the conversation to another topic quickly, but when it comes to wine, consumers and buyers are rapidly becoming more interested in what goes into producing it.  Empson recently spoke with Manuel Marchetti of Marcarini Winery to get more information.

First, it’s important to note that there is no one procedure when it comes to choosing the right type of yeast to use during the winemaking process.  All strains have their pros and cons, and the trick is finding the best compromise to obtain the results a winery may want.

Yeast’s role in winemaking is attributed to Louis Pasteur in 1860. Before then, nobody knew why fermentation began.  At that time, most of the wines had a high quantity of residual sugar, and many of them spoiled because of re-fermentation and disease.

You could say that the discovery of yeast and the understanding of its role in transforming the glucose contained in the grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide signaled the start of modern-day winemaking.

Today, the wine industry separates yeast into a few categories:

  • indigenous yeasts are those you find on the grape skins;
  • wild yeasts can have different explanations, but are best described as yeasts found outside the vineyard or that are brought into the vineyard from the outside (by way of wind, birds, insects, etc.);
  • selected yeasts belong to the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and is chosen because the physiological, biochemical and ecological characteristics are ideal for the result a winery may be looking for. For example, the production of glycerol, higher or lower alcohol, less volatile acidity, etc.
Grape Harvest

Grape Harvest

Winemaker Manuel Marchetti gave us some insight on the different uses of yeasts.

Indigenous yeast

“On the grapes, you can divide the various yeasts into groups of Saccharomyces and non-Saccharomyces. One thing to consider in particular is that Saccharomyces cerevisiae is rare on healthy grapes, but the atmosphere in the cellar can make them potentially develop through contamination from the equipment, tanks, pipes, etc.

When fermentation begins, it is tough to say which species of yeast will prevail during fermentation and which will survive until the end.  Non-Saccharomyces species dominate during the first two to three days of fermentation but then because of alcohol and temperature increase, die. The Saccharomyces species then prevails.

Spontaneous fermentation is characterized by a large biodiversity of inter- and intra- yeast species, and this means there will be considerable variations during the winemaking process and final result. This influences the structure of the wine and can make wines with great complexity and typicity.”

Selected Yeast

“The use of selected yeast gives you the security of knowing you are using Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, and that this species will prevail during the winemaking process.  This results in a quick start of fermentation, the complete use of the glucose contained in the grapes, shorter fermentation times, less volatile acidity, less chance of fermenting bad grapes, and gives wines better stability and fining.

The problem is that you can lose the wine’s natural characteristics and standardize the wine’s flavors.

Nowadays, to avoid standardizing, researchers have reproduced the yeasts that are typically present in the vineyards, like BRL yeast, which is found in Barolo vineyards.”

Manuel went on to explain that at the Marcarini Winery, they use different selected yeasts for each wine, giving them control, without sacrificing their wines’ character.  “We use selected yeasts obtained from indigenous yeasts that were discovered by researchers in the area,” he explains.  “We use BRL yeast for the Barolo Brunate and La Serra, so we do not lose typicity and benefit from all of the advantages of using selected yeast.”

In doing so, Manuel has protected his winery from spontaneous fermentation, which changes the wine’s characteristics, and from fluctuations in volatile acidity, caused by non-Saccharomyces yeasts, which can result in higher levels of acidity, forcing you need larger quantities of SO2 (sulfites).

While it is not entirely possible to eliminate contact with wild yeasts, which can be involuntarily introduced during the transport of the grapes to the winery, and yeasts present in the cellar, Marcarini’s history of quality is evidence that their passion for their craft extends beyond just the vineyard.

Written by Empson Staff Writer