Sauvignon blanc and vinegar

I was most shocked and sympathetic to hear that some sauvignon blanc producers are right now tearing their hair out in anger and anguish! Apparently there has been a problem with one of the yeasts widely used for inoculating their grapes this year. Could it even amount to another sauvignon scandal?

Savvy producers (get the pun – great?!) don’t pay much attention to all that nonsense about natural yeast and terroir, I’m glad to say – sauvignon is mostly about flavour and fun and being easily recognisable, not such airy-fairy nonsense! Which makes the current problem all the worse, frankly.

Those wonderful winemakers who try to emphasise the flavoursome tropical fruity characters that we love (“estery” they call them when they’re trying to be grand to us, or talking among themselves) – well, they’re feeling dreadfully let down by the supplier of their favourite industrial yeast. (Come on, fellow savvy-lovers – you surely don’t think that luscious fruitiness comes from mere unassisted grapes, do you?)

It seems – or so I’ve heard, but can you trust what you hear up here in Gauteng? – that those who in 2013 used the specific yeast they paid for so heavily have found what they dourly call “unacceptable levels of volatile acidity”. That is, to put it bluntly, their wines tasted too much of vinegar. Even the biggest producers might have had trouble getting their wines passed as acceptable by the authorities.

ReverseOsmosis-CATSome, if they have enough wine fermented happily with other yeasts (few rely on just one), can blend away the problematic batches. Some cannot.

I’m told that those rather invisible but omnipresent reverse osmosis machines that the industry keeps quiet about have been churning away overtime to rectify the situation to the extent that they can. They’re not much used to coping with sauvignon blanc, these machines, but duty is duty, profit is profit, and wine is a much less natural product than mere wine-loving suckers generally expect.

So, rumbling threats of legal action against the yeast suppliers, extra expense and anxiety for big producers of the fruitier, more exuberant end of sauvignon production (if the machine takes away the nasty bits, can it be trusted to not take away some of the nice stuff too? Do let’s trust they will stay legal with what they do).

It all adds up to a little more interest in the fate of vintage 2013 for sauvignon blanc. Let’s put it down, perhaps, to vintage variation. Unless, of course, the presumably worried yeast manufacturer is obliged to publicly admit that it somehow played a part in the problem – if indeed it did, but do we anyway want that sort of notoriety for our cash-cow, even if it compensation covers the cost of more-or-less-adequate high-tech fixing?

[This blog originally carried on the now-discontinued “Widow’s Nephew” page]

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