There is now an 'organic' yeast developed from a biodynamic vineyard in Champagne. I met the news with eyebrows raised and lip curled. The whole idea smacked of commercialism in a way that first outraged and then saddened me. This stupid idea was going to stand in the way of school-trained winemakers from getting the feel of native yeast fermentation and will give them an excuse, "but now there's an organic yeast!"
Because the whole idea seems opposed to the spirit and purpose of bioD and organic, I was compelled to take a meeting at the Champagne lab, Œnotechnique, the one that took ten years to develop Quartz--The Yeast--before placing it on the market for the 2007 vintage.
The consultant I met with, James Darsonville, had a print of Van Gogh and an African violet plant on his desk and a little pin, like the Italian's wear. I can't help it, I always associate the decoration with black shirts. But Mr. Darsonville was very friendly, excited, clearly not used to requests from the press.
He explained everyone who makes champagne must yeast, though he did admit some few don’t for the first fermentation (many but not all of our guys, Pierre Larmandier, David Leclapart, Lassaigne, Vouette Sorbe, to name a few.). But, they run great risk, especially in developing volatile acidity which can be identified by the aroma of nail polish or apple cider vinegar.
The second fermentation, however, is more difficult because it’s a total manipulation anyway. (For another blog, just trust me).
M. Darsonville was happy to explain that winemakers all over the world were enthused about this yeast. It has shown up in wines from Chile and Down Under. VinQuiry sells it in California. Requests are coming from wineries that want to make organic wines, which is just the kind of 'legitimacy' for yeasting I don't want to see. (Oy.) Given how big GREEN is at the moment, they stand to make pots of dough off of this.
“And as far as using the yeast? Is it good?” I asked.
He smiled and said, "C'est bio, C'est bon."
No doubt the lab intends to wink, wink all the way to the bank, they might even put the moto on their deposit slips.
The next morning I was at Fleury in Courteron to see the vineyards that are now immortalized in packets from the lab.
Did you ever see such gorgeous vineyards? Truly.
The village of Courteron has 25 hectares in biodynamic. Who says they can’t farm biodynamically in Champagne? Fleury, who was the first, said two other neighbors seeing his success followed suit. "We are like Les Trois Mousquetaires . I'm d'Artagnan."
Jean-Sebastien Fleury says they will get no royalties from the yeast sales but will receive free yeast every year.
Nevertheless, yeast or no yeast, some of his champers are delicious. I particularly loved the Cuve Robert Fleury (blend of all three grapes. Round and creamy with bits of mandarin) and the honeysuckle-ish 1996 Fleury and his wife's pure and delicious gougres.
During that visit, I saw that Jean-Sebastien was innocent about the potential misuse of his yeast. He is an enthused astronomer, and as he gazes at Orion's Belt he will have no idea how his little (but I hear fast fermenting yeast) will be used by winemakers and companies hoping to capitalize on the current sex appeal of organic.