Co-fermenting vs. Blending: My appreciation for Fall’s Hottest Wine Trend
Coly Den Haan, owner of Vinovore, a Los Angeles-based wine shop that focuses on female winemakers, used the word “free-for-all” to describe what’s being predicted as one of fall’s biggest wine trends: Co-fermenting.
Co-fermenting fully embraces an “anything goes” mentality. Fruit? Throw it in. Wine? Throw it in. Cider? Throw it in. At its core, it is about taking different grape varietals, harvesting them together, and fermenting them together. The result is a wine that often represents a specific synergy and harmony from grapes or fruit that grow together from flowering to harvest and then integrate further during fermentation. For these producers, the co-existence of the wine starts in the vineyard and depending on the harvest maturity for each grape variety, the winemaker can extend the fermentation longer by adding freshly harvested grapes to an already fermenting tank and keep this co-fermentation process happening for a longer period. The goal is for the flavors to find balance and integration throughout the entire winemaking process. The co-fermentation technique relies heavily on the vineyard and grapes to do the majority of the work, and the winemaker is partially removed from the process. Ultimately, co-fermented wines offer a unique personality that is often representative of the vintage and the vineyard—definitely an expression of nature.
Now, co-fermenting is not to be confused with wine blending. Wine blending is where different grape varietals are grown, harvested, and fermented—separately. Only after the grape juice has been fermented are the two wines brought together for blending purposes. The result is a wine that offers more opportunity for the winemaking team to show their skill with balancing flavors, texture, and aromatics for a wine that is produced by virtue of blending. It is also possible to have more control with individual grapes, tanks, and barrels. Therefore, if any problems arise during the harvest, it is easier to identify the source and make decisions to avoid problematic tanks or barrels. Wine blending also allows for a winemaker to specifically highlight a certain flavor profile by using particular grapes to achieve the desired result in a finished wine. In areas like the Rhône Valley Syrah adds dark purple fruit notes, violets, pepper, and spice. Whereas Grenache provides lower acidity, rounder mouthfeel, higher alcohol, and flavors of ripe strawberry, red cherry, and dried herbs. It is up to the winemaker to determine how that blend of flavors will best fit together.
Did you catch that difference?
There are a few things that I love about this new co-fermentation trend:
- At its core, it embraces sustainability. Think about it. If you are a farmer and you have a few rows left of different grape varietals, those grapes can still be used in the making of a new novel wine. Rather than let any of the harvest go to waste, co-fermentation allows for tinkering and experimentation- combinations that may never have been contemplated can be new small batches. Think of it as a new wine Research & Development department.
- As someone who likes to cook, I really compare this style of producing wine to making a sauce or dish that includes all of the ingredients being added together at once instead of cooking things separately and combining later. In the end, flavors that start together before fermentation will ultimately have more harmony and integration. Flavors that are blended later can certainly achieve complexity and balance, but these wines are often found to maintain unique individual characteristics associated with a specific flavor. As with food, if wines are not blended and balanced well, these flavors can come across as disjointed. Ultimately, blending is an art as can be represented by great Champagne or Bordeaux. Yet, I love the rustic complexity and integrated detail that is associated with wines that are co-fermented. They are not always perfect, but they definitely have character and style.
So, thinking about trying a co-fermented wine? Here are a few of my personal favorites:
- 2018 Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Satz – This is a field blend of at least 17 different grapes grown in the Weinviertel region of Austria. Ingrid Groiss is a young, talented winemaker in the area who is using her skill combined with tradition to produce some of the most exciting wines in Austria today.
- 2018 Bedrock Wine Co. ‘Bedrock Vineyard’ Sonoma Valley – This bold and powerful red wine is a field blend of 75% Zinfandel, 20% Carignan, and 5% Mataro, but includes a total of 27 varieties. Morgan-Twain Peterson is a Master of Wine and an awesome winemaker with a passion for finding producing wines from old vine sites throughout California.
- 2011 Movia Veliko Belo, Brda Slovenia – Aleš Kristančič produces this exotic co-fermentation of Ribolla, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris, which happens to be one of the most thought-provoking wines on the planet. Aleš farms his vineyards biodynamically and ages his wines in barrel for an extended period prior to bottling. This 2011 is current vintage, a white wine that spends almost 5 years in wood. Movia is known for producing exciting wines filled with energy and passion and capable of aging for decades in the cellar.