Log In / Join Now

Ask Dr. Vinny

Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have seen some wineries say that they use natural or native yeast for fermentation. Is that possible? I thought that natural yeast was difficult to control and that controlled yeast was preferred for fermentations.

—Dave, Oakland, Calif.

Dear Dave,

If left alone, grapes would eventually ripen, their skins would crack and the juice begin to ferment, thanks to the "native" yeasts that live on and around the vines. But most winemakers don't leave this process to chance; they make wine by inoculating the juice with known strains of "cultured" yeasts. These "lab yeasts" are desirable because they are strong, consistent, fast fermenters. That consistency is key, especially with producers who are making large volumes of wine.

Some winemakers prefer native (wild, indigenous, natural, ambient or spontaneous) yeast fermentation. Yeast populations are in the air; they can originate in the vineyard or in a cellar. The biggest benefit of wild yeast is complexity—some aromas, flavors and, in particular, textures seem unique to this method. But natural fermentations are riskier, slower and can be unpredictable.

—Dr. Vinny

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.