Ecology in the Cellar

These questions stems from my research into the purchase of a new barrel washer/steam generator and a conversation I had with a winemaker last night. Is there a healthy or even desirable level of organisms in the cellar and, if so, can we encourage their growth while discouraging the growth of unwanted bugs (lactic acid bacteria and Brett, for example)? By sanitizing the best we can are we killing bugs that might otherwise thwart the growth of the bad stuff? Can we practice good cellar hygiene and still encourage the native yeast (if they do in fact exist in the winery and not just on the fruit) that ferments our 26.5 Brix fruit to 14.5% alcohol (I’m exaggerating, but you get the point)? The analogue is hand sanitizer: A strong argument has been made that you don’t want to wash your hands with anything stronger than soap because the hand sanitizers that claim to kill 99.999% of the bugs on your hands annihilate the good bugs that can fight off the bad.

Thanks for any thoughts.

Jeremy

Great question. I do hope some of the elder winemaking statesmen on the board here chime in.

Well, I’m not that elder. [wow.gif]
As far as I know, there is nothing in the winery that is “good” that thwarts the growth of the undesirable things that live in the winery. Sure, bugs that use the same food source as the undesirables may provide some competition, but the bugs usually found in the winery have generally evoloved over time to survive in the winery/wine environment.
I have known people who have built new winery facilities and were able to do native ferments in the first crush in the facility, so we know that most/all of these yeasts originated in the vineyard. If you look at a mixed culture yeast fermentation kinetics chart, you see that most of the non-Sacch yeasts do not complete the fermentation. That being said, I have done research fermentations with a Sacch/Brett co-ferm, and even though the Brett populatin was small at the end, it was able to survive the competition from the Sacch and complete the ferm. You definitely want to kill any Brett you might have (unless you like that sort of thing…Blech). Acetic acid bacteria seem to survive just fine in some wines. So do lactic acid bacterias other than Oenococcus- not enough competition from anything else to kill these sorts of bugs.

Take a look at the sanitiation the brewing industry performs. Breweries are MUCH cleaner than wineries- they have to be. Problems arise when they fall down on the job and maybe get lax- things like rampant lactic acid bacterial infestations can occur.

I would not worry about something like a “hospital infection” in the winery. We just got a steam generator last week, and we bottled a small amount of Viognier this morning. You should have seen what came out of the hose we used…YUCK!

Serena Suttcliffe once waxed poetic about “that Bacteriological Paradise that is Chateau Rayas…”

"Breweries are MUCH cleaner than wineries- they have to be. Problems arise when they fall down on the job and maybe get lax-things like rampant lactic acid bacterial infestations can occur. "

Oh my God…the horror! That would mean we would have to drink THIS instead of homogenized lager:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodenbach" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Linda,
Thanks for the response, although I’d meant the questions to provoke discussion in a philosophical sense, not for practical purposes. I was hoping (though clearly failed) to get some thoughts on how or if a cellar could be thought of holistically, as a vineyard is. That is, do our clean cellar practices equate in any way to the clean vineyard practices of the recent past. Perhaps I should have phrased the questions differently…

Probably not. That’s why you attach the Ozonator to the barrel washer. If you want holistic winemaking in the cellar, then you should be willing to accept Brett as a desireable and natural entity in your wines.

I do know hippie’s smell…and they like it.

I would have to agree with Jeremy. If you keep the cellar super sterile at all times then you will not get an infection. The danger being that if there is a breach in the system and brettanomyces is able to contaminate that sterile environment you will get a wide contamination. The idea I think is to create an ecological balance. If there is an ecological void all Brettanomyces wants to do is fill that niche. If other organisms have already filled that niche Brettanomyces will not be able to grow as freely, it will have to compete.Which it is very bad at.

And what would be the competitor with Brett in a barrel for instance? The only way you could keep Brett from growing in a barrel if it were present, is if there was some sort of nasty biofilm which would keep the Brett from accessing the cellobiose of the barrel. I think a biofilm might be even worse than the Brett. [beee.gif] I realize that Brett is a fairly fastidious yeast (although I had a LOT less trouble culturing it and keeping it growing than would be thought by all of the fastidious talk), but It really doesn’t need much to keep it going. I can’t imagine anything else in a barrel competing with it enough to keep it down.

that beer is phe-nom-en-al!! gotta love the Rodenbach [notworthy.gif]

Not to disagree but to me that seems totally wrong. You keep Brett and other microflora that cause wine defects out with rigorous sanitation not ecological balance. You don’t allow innoculum that causes wine defects to exist or you are asking for potentially tainted wine.

Winemaking is about hygenic sanitation allowing vineyard expression to exist.

Fecal characteristics and animal aromas, caused by certain yeast and bacteria innoculum that exist through poor sanitation, are not vineyard expression.

Vineyard expression is taking what the site and that specific vintage’s macroclimate give you, in terms of fruit, and transforming it cleanly to wine. You shoot the bad guys before they shoot you.

Not to disagree but to me that seems totally wrong. You keep Brett and other microflora that cause wine defects out with rigorous sanitation not ecological balance. You don’t allow innoculum that causes wine defects to exist or you are asking for potentially tainted wine.

Winemaking is about hygenic sanitation allowing vineyard expression to exist.

Fecal characteristics and animal aromas, caused by certain yeast and bacteria innoculum that exist through poor sanitation, are not vineyard expression.

Vineyard expression is taking what the site and that specific vintage’s macroclimate give you, in terms of fruit, and transforming it cleanly to wine. You shoot the bad guys before they shoot you.

Peter,
Let’s consider the vineyard statement: If the site happens to encourage bot do you not spray wettable sulfur, and do so on a regular basis as humidity and temperature dictate? If the site is poor in NPK or any combination do you not amend? If the soil loses water due to its nature do you not irrigate? You must include these factors as expressions of the vineyard, because they are, in fact, the essence of the vineyard. Few vineyard managers let bugs grow wild under their watch, but it appears like the control has lessened considerably from the scorched earth days, save for parts of the Central Valley where raisins and table grapes are being cultivated. Why? Is it simply government regulations and safety concerns?

That said, I disagree that winemaking is about hygenic sanitation, despite what I learned at Fresno and at Davis. (I’m not about to suggest what winemaking is about.) I’ve seen cellars where only wine touches the hoses and the barrels and the wine in bottle is not Bretty. Could the wine be better with tighter cleaning? Maybe. I never did an inventory to find out what bugs are in those cellars but I’m curious how Brett and LAB are controlled without pressure washing, followed by caustic, followed by PAA, which is my preferred cleaning regime.

I’m not sure I follow your logic generally. Sulfur doesn’t control botrytis, air and light do through shoot thinning, leaf removal, cluster thinning , and encouraging loose clusters. But those interventions you mention are called farming, its working with how the terroir reflects weather vagaries of each vintage, then interpolating and making educated guesses, since future weather is unpredictable.

The cellars I have seen that don’t practice good sanitation in winery sanitation, barrel maintainence, and equipment regimen tend to make fecal, bretty wine.

I think you are trying to mentally cross over in a romantic sense from other biological systems where diversity of microflora contribute to well being and are part of a healthy immune systems. In walls, containers and equipment it doesn’t work that way, these microflora are innoculum that tend to be beyond your control. Unmaintained barrels mold inside. Exposed wine forms acetic acid, aldehydes and a pool of innoculum.

The winery is not like a complex soil system of fungi, bacteria and protozoa. Neither is it like complex organic organisms where beneficial bacteria occupy positions on cellular surfaces and throughout the organism with the effect of blocking pathogens.

A winery is not a complex biological organism organism or system. It is a process subject to external forces and variables. Great wine is made through control and having the right bugs rather than the wrong ones do the work. Its about having inocculums that contribute positive organoleptic attributes. If you know someone that can do this regularly without controlled sanitation, it begs to be understood.

For years some Europeans claimed that brett was terroir, some still do. I’m not buying that claim and curiously the Europeans have been making less bretty wines even in the traditional regions that once were known for making bretty wines. How? Through better sanitation. Its not rocket science.

I’m not sure I follow your logic generally. Sulfur doesn’t control botrytis, air and light do through shoot thinning, leaf removal, cluster thinning , and encouraging loose clusters. But those interventions you mention are called farming, its working with how the terroir reflects weather vagaries of each vintage, then interpolating and making educated guesses, since future weather is unpredictable.

The cellars I have seen that don’t practice good sanitation in winery sanitation, barrel maintainence, and equipment regimen tend to make fecal, bretty wine.

I think you are trying to mentally cross over in a romantic sense from other biological systems where diversity of microflora contribute to well being and are part of a healthy immune systems. In walls, containers and equipment it doesn’t work that way, these microflora are innoculum that tend to be beyond your control. Unmaintained barrels mold inside. Exposed wine forms acetic acid, aldehydes and a pool of innoculum.

The winery is not like a complex soil system of fungi, bacteria and protozoa. Neither is it like complex organic organisms where beneficial bacteria occupy positions on cellular surfaces and throughout the organism with the effect of blocking pathogens.

A winery is not a complex biological organism organism or system. It is a process subject to external forces and variables. Great wine is made through control and having the right bugs rather than the wrong ones do the work. Its about having inocculums that contribute positive organoleptic attributes. If you know someone that can do this regularly without controlled sanitation, it begs to be understood.

For years some Europeans claimed that brett was terroir, some still do. I’m not buying that claim and curiously the Europeans have been making less bretty wines even in the traditional regions that once were known for making bretty wines. How? Through better sanitation. Its not rocket science.

hope to be less obtuse this time:
first, i meant powdery mildew when i said bot re sulfur application. second, as for the cellar, yes, i suppose i was being romantic when i questioned the lengths that we go to keep things clean. not rocket science, certainly, maybe more holistic voodoo.

The hardest part of winemaking is sifting through the romantic mythologies and wonderful stories to find what’s real.