inoculation v native

The subject of inoculation as opposed to native yeast fermentation has generated a lot of discussion. Terry, could you please give some examples of wines of both types that you feel deliver fidelity with respect to sense of place? And do you feel there are wineries of note that ferment on the native yeast that do not? I’m not asking you to name names on the latter point, just to address the topic, if you would.

Thanks for participating.

It’s actually too huge a topic to go into here. I write about it in my book, and touch on it in my Germany catalogue. Yet though the topic looms so unnaturally large, in reality it’s little more than ephemeral.

Every single wine with which I work “delivers fidelity [to] sense of place,” or else I wouldn’t buy and sell them. And they hail from a wide range of fermentation practices.

An interesting estate to examine is Selbach-Oster, because Johannes ferments some wines spontaneously with ambient yeasts (which the Germans call “spontis”) and others with cultured yeasts, and some of his wines are blends of both. It’s impossible to say that one style conduces best to terroir expression, though there is a doctrine being promulgated that would insist you believe it is not only possible to make that claim, it is morally superior to make wine that way. If only the world were that simple. If only such questions were less ambiguous. We’d barely need to think any more.

But I’ll go this far. It’s entirely OK to prefer the taste of one method over that of the other. (That is, assuming one actually CAN taste it without knowing the method in advance…)

So Ken, I’m afraid my answer won’t be terribly satisfying. Choice of fermentation yeasts (to the extent it actually is a choice) is an ancillary matter that’s interesting to consider in all its parameters, but my experience has been that the more I delved and the more I learned, the LESS certain I was that there was a “superior” approach, let alone one that best expresses terroir.

Thanks for the refreshingly non-judgmental reply, Terry. I’ll be picking up your book shortly.

As is the case with so many of the contentious areas of wine appreciation, what seems to be most at stake in the discourse occurring elsewhere is not the actual answer, but who gets to decide.


I have really discovered something surprising about this since I discover more and more Mosel wines, and would like to know if you have noticed the same thing: in Alsace, I can’t be sure to recognise a spontan fermentation, but in Mosel it really impacts more the wines. I mean, not in the structure of the wine or on the expression of the terroir, for which I agree with your answer. But it gives some aromas which I recognise in almost all of those “spontan” wines in Mosel. Some of them have it more, and some of them less (Selbach-Oster wines are not too much marked), but it is almost everywhere. So I would like to know if you also noticed that in Mosel and not in Alsace, or if I’m the only one to have this impression. And if yes, do you have any idea why this difference between Alsace and Mosel?



In Mosel wines it can give a sort of carob aroma, sometimes (in extreme cases) almost chocolate. It also has the tendency to create lots of temporary (but annoyingly inconvenient if you have to sell the stuff) H2S aromas. But let’s not forget that so much of this depends on other factors, such as what vessel the fermentation took place in (Fuder or steel), and at what temperature. And then you need to know when it was racked off the gross lees, and whether and for how long it sat on the fine lees. All these things affect the “sponti” aromas.

Let’s also not forget that some growers do a small inoculation to get the party started, after which the ambient yeasts take over. What then?

I don’t know the answer to your Alsace question, but I suspect it has to do with the Moselaners continuing use of Fuder. For those not in-the-know, these are 1,000-liter casks in which Mosel Riesling is “traditionally” made, whereas in other regions the barrels are often larger and sometimes much larger.

I also have a dim hypothesis (very preliminary, merely intuitive, barely tested) that slate soils may play a role in creating that typical Mosel-sponti aroma, because it recurs in certain Mittelrhein and even Nahe wines.

Sponti in a cellar with a history would most likely be a population established over previous years of fermentation and some signature seems like it would arise (a million single celled versions of Helmut Donnhoff wanting to tell the story of their landscape and home). The little beasties are pretty remarkable creatures and they like to get in and go to work. I’m a fan of the very natural (and somewhat cooler and longer) ferments I get with native…but I am not sure that’s not more related to starting the population from scratch and corresponding yeast populations that more correctly match the ability of the fruit to feed them all.