Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yeast Whisperer of Newton Vineyard

The first days of the Newton Chardonnay harvest are stressful.

We pick it, we press it, we choose the best French barrels and… nothing happens. For days, the juice is quiet, viscous, cloyingly sweet.

Nothing… No matter how much I stare inside the barrels or glue my ear to the bung holes until the side of my face shows a ring of toasted oak smoke.

It’s only when I start getting that recurring dream of hot tubs filled with bubbling grape juice, around the 6th or 7th day, that our tricky indigenous yeasts deign offer some hope. Suddenly, the whole cellar is filled with the gurgling sound of the starting fermentation and I breathe a sigh of relief.

That makes Julian laugh.

Julian Cendejas (pictured at right) has worked at Newton since 1989. Over his more than 20 harvests, he’s learned to be patient and that the fermentation will start. Some years it’s fast -just a couple of days- some years it takes up to 10 or 12 days. Once a lot of Chardonnay is fermenting, the whole cellar follows.

Julian always knows when this will happen: I have a theory that he’s somehow communicating with the yeasts that come from our vineyard. He’ll say “Tomorrow, this lot will start”. I’ll look in the barrel he is showing me, shaking my head: “Naaah, there is not even any froth.” The next day, he’ll be right.

Now, all the 2011 Chardonnay is fermenting, some lots well on their way to dryness. It was a cool growing season and even if the sugars remained lower than in the past years, the flavors are exotic and complex. There are apricot and grilled pineapple notes but no hint of the quince paste that characterizes over-ripe vintages. The musqué lots are delicately floral without being too wisteria or lilac-like.

This should be a vintage for aging. But shhhh… Don’t tell our yeasts: they are not done with their job until Julian says so!


Frederique Perrin
Associate Winemaker, Newton Vineyard

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