• My name is Marilena Barbera
    and I am a winegrower.
    I live and make my wines in Menfi, Sicily.

Spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast
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Why is everybody scared by spontaneous fermentation? Winemaking tip of the day: management of indigenous yeast

My first time with indigenous yeast was in 2010 (I have broadly talked about techniques, doubts and experiments here). It has been true love between us since that very moment, a sweet romance that I do hope will never come to an end.

People say a lot of bad things about wild yeast.

Some snobby winemakers call it “wild”, as they don’t trust it to be seriously committed in pushing the fermentation through its very end.
Some say it’s insubordinate, disobedient beings, that it hides swarms of Kloeckera apiculata and other frightful allies among its ranks, all trying to turn your fragrant scented must into a sour tart juice as soon as you look away. Some say you won’t tell a California style Chardonnay and any acidic grüner veltliner apart after you set it free…

Not to talk about its lack of attention and indolent character: some will swear to God they have witnessed epic fermentation stops, totally unable to restart the magic bubbles flowing not with brutal pumping-overs nor with the help of dibasic ammonium phosphate, a Red Bull energy drink of some sort that you would supply to yeast suffering of low blood sugar syndrome.

Surely because it feels my affection, my indigenous yeast has never been so bad to me...

I collect the yeast early in the morning, when the grapes are fresh and turgid.
I cut the most beautiful clusters, which I will squeeze by hands in small stainless steel and thoroughly sanitized cans.
Because it has slept all through the winter and I don’t want to abruptly wake it up, I plunge it into a bath of mineral water and a 10% of alcohol, which will impede bacteria to grow - and they are so mean!

Then I loop play the XX - if they do good to me they do good also to it, I suppose - and wait.

Usually it takes from two to five days to awaken: a bit more with waning or full moon, much less with waxing or new moon.

Mum says that moon phases are just my personal obsession. Though I observe every year the same behaviour in yeast’s growth, I can’t exclude she may be right. This year it was collected on August 1st and started fermentation on the 6th, on the first day of new moon, and this is something, right? It grows so happily that I need to keep it quiet with a temperature not above 61F until the real harvest begins.

It ferments for a few days with its skins, stems and some of the most flexible branches (no leaves). Then I will discard the branches and keep skins and stems until the manual pressing, when the starter is poured into the tank for the real fermentation.

But that'is a different story, maybe I will tell you next time.

On air: xx - Crystalised

Tags: lieviti indigeni, fermentazione spontanea, vinificazione, lieviti selvaggi, vendemmia

My story

My story

We have been winegrowers for three generations: a 100 years long story, a legacy of love and respect
Wine book

Wine book

Always up-to-date with all available wines and vintages: ready for browsing, or for immediate download

Photo album

Photo album

My book of photo shots from my vineyard in Sicily, available in HR for download - please cite the source

Video gallery

Video gallery

My YouTube channel with harvest stories, tastings, travels and meetings with very special people


Between a road map and a winery notebook, a personal digital moleskine with notes on winemaking, tastings and events, people I meet, places I see: my everyday life in the wine world.

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