In a world where everyone is a natural, hands on, traditional winemaker it perhaps a bit old hat now. Please rest assured we are the genuine article, hand made, traditional, bugger all intervention, natural, call it what you want, once you open the bottle you will understand.

Most winemakers are practicing minimal intervention techniques these days, allow the vineyard to speak is the ethos and we can only agree.

Getting the fruit right is most of the battle won and this is why vintage variation occurs. If grape quality were not the paramount concern in the winemaking process then every vintage would be quite similar as all else in the process is under the control of the winemaker. Using our own fruit and purchasing from selected growers is the best way we can ensure the best possible fruit for or wines.

The biggest point of difference between us and the majority of the Barossa winemaking community is here at smallfry we rely on wild yeast to conduct the primary alcoholic ferment.

The ideal scenario came with the great 02 vintage where the first add of any kind came when we added 40 ppm of SO2  after malolactic ferment was complete. So no yeast, no HTA, no malo bugs, no DAP nada.

Our 04 was a bit out of balance so we did adjust the pH with 1 g/L of Tartaric Acid but again primary and malo ferments occurred spontaneously. 05 is the same story.

Why wild yeast? My belief is that the different flavour profile obtained using wild yeast ferments is primarily due to population dynamics. The ferments can take a day or so to get going, during this time preferment maceration of skins occurs extracting a more fruity flavour profile.

Most winemakers I know would add a cultivated yeast inoculum in a high population at the crusher or in the fermenter with the express intention of getting the ferment going as quickly as possible. This is not wrong, it is simply a different approach.

Another option for preferment maceration would be using cooling to chill grapes, before warming them again and initiating ferment.

The adherents of wild yeast believe that when James Busby imported grape varieties from the old world to begin our industry, concealed in the buds and bark were the old world yeasts that fermented their wines. These same old world yeasts were later isolated and cultivated to provide the inoculations the modern industry relies on.

The other population dynamic at play is that no one strain of yeast dominates for the entire course of the ferment. A new trend is using multiple cultivated strains of yeast to try and get more complexity into the resulting wines. The problem I see in this is that the commercial strains of yeast are normally based on “killer yeast” in other words a strain that is aggressive to other yeast and will tend to dominate the ferment, the benefits of 3 or 4 of these killer strains being inoculated into the one ferment? The jury is still out on that one. The reality is that by natural selection it is probably one of these naturally occurring killer strains that completes our wild ferments as well but it is the influence of the other strains along the way that we are interested in.

The biggest kick I get out of using wild ferments is the Dionysis thing. Wine was a gift from the gods because before microscopes no one had any idea of what was turning their grapes into wine. Fermentation was a spontaneous event to be celebrated by giving thanks to the gods, it turned a perishable item i.e. grapes into a storable, pleasant (we hope) health giving product.

Crushing grapes into a fermenter then later getting in with my bare feet and feeling around for the little warm patches and mixing them into the rest of the must until within a day or two a lovely, healthy, sweet smelling ferment results is a thing of great excitement for me. Which is really what it’s all about. If I can’t offer you something I’m excited about we might as well all pack up, go home and leave it to Jacobs Creek.

Wayne Ahrens