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Yeast, Wine Auction

Posted by | December 18, 2008

King of the Yeasts

Partnering with the commercial yeast producer Lallemand, WSU food scientist Charlie Edwards and his colleagues formulated strains of yeast that can stand up to high-sugar grape musts. Top: Lallemand products. Bottom: yeast cells.

Partnering with the commercial yeast producer Lallemand, WSU food scientist Charlie Edwards and his colleagues formulated strains of yeast that can stand up to high-sugar grape musts. Top: Lallemand products. Bottom: yeast cells.

Where does a great glass of wine get its start? In the vineyard, certainly, as the foundation for good wine is always good fruit. But once the fruit is picked and turned over to the winemaker, yeast can make or break a great wine.

Once yeast is added to grape must (the juice and, if red, skins of the grapes), winemakers hope it performs as expected. Ideally, yeast should perform consistently batch after batch, regularly metabolizing a certain amount of sugar into ethanol. A yeast that underperforms may result in a sluggish or “stuck” fermentation—an expensive, stinky disaster for a commercial winery and a disheartening mess for a home winemaker.

Especially with winemakers encouraging growers to leave the grapes on the vine a bit longer in order to increase the Brix or sugar content of the ripe fruit, a well-behaved yeast is a must have tool in the vintner’s kit. Increased hang time results in bigger, bolder wines, but the increased sugars in the fruit can stress yeast that doesn’t have the proper nutritional backbone to handle the job.

Partnering with the commercial yeast producer Lallemand, WSU food scientist Charlie Edwards and his colleagues formulated strains of yeast that can stand up to high-sugar grape musts. Released commercially about a year ago, these new Lallemand yeasts, Edwards said, “are better acclimated to a grape must” with lots of sugar.

A yeast with a poor nutritional profile—one that, for instance, goobles up as much sugar as it can in the first few days of fermentation—results in wine with more hydrogen sulfide, giving the finished product a sulfury, rotten-egg smell.

Lallemand is now marketing internationally its yeasts based on WSU research, Edwards said. Each package proudly bears a bit of text saying the yeast was “developed in collaboration with Washington State University.”

Although the precise formulation of Lallemand’s yeasts is a trade secret, Edwards said the difference is in the process of manufacture. “We looked carefully at a large number of products under commercial winemaking conditions,” Edwards said before zeroing in on strains that performed consistently and had a nutritional profile suitable for the flavorful wines so esteemed by today’s consumers.

“A Celebration of Washington Wine” – The CEO Collection

Top: WSU V&E students crushing grapes in the new student winery. Bottom: Patrons of 'A Celebration of Washington Wines' help grow the Washington wine industry by supporting V&E at WSU.

Top: WSU V&E students crushing grapes in the new student winery. Bottom: Patrons of “A Celebration of Washington Wines” help grow the Washington wine industry by supporting V&E at WSU.

Fran Forgette, partner in the Tri-Cities law firm of Rettig Osborne Forgette, LLP, and Steve Burnstead, President of Steve Burnstead Construction of Bellevue, are co-chairs of the “CEO Collection” for the 2009 “A Celebration of Washington Wines” gala benefit dinner and auction.

Each year business leaders from throughout the state are invited to contribute a bottle of one of their favorite Washington wines. Donations are combined into “CEO Collection” lots for the auction. Each bottle bears a custom tag identifying its donor.

The eighth annual “A Celebration of Washington Wines” will be held on Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, with proceeds benefiting the Washington State University Viticulture and Enology Program.

“The CEO Collection lots always include a unique collection of some of the finest Washington wines and are a popular auction item,” according to Nancy Harnasch, chair of the auction organizing committee. “We’re pleased to have Mr. Forgette and Mr. Burnstead leading this year’s effort to bring some interesting contributions to these collections.”

Successful bids for CEO Collection lots at past auctions have been as high as $4,200. Since its inception in 2005, the collection lots have brought in a total of $18,300.

Forgette currently serves as the chair of the Board of Regents for WSU, and is a board member and past chairman of both TRIDEC, the nonprofit economic development entity for the Tri-Cities region, and the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce.

Burnstead has served as president of Steve Burnstead Construction since 1986 and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish counties and the Kirkland Interfaith Transitional Housing Advisory Committee.

The annual black-tie gala will feature a reception, silent auction, live auction and dinner prepared by the award-winning Chateau Ste. Michelle culinary staff, including wines paired with each course. Auction items will include exciting adventures, romantic getaways, exclusive dinners and wine tastings, and premium and rare Washington wines.

Margo Myers, co-anchor of Seattle’s KIRO 7 Eyewitness News, will emcee the event again this year and Jeff Randall of the Stokes Auction Group will return as auctioneer.

In its seven year history the gala has grossed more than $1 million for the WSU Viticulture and Enology program. The WSU V&E program provides scientific research and educates a new generation of winemakers and wine grape growers to support the state’s growing wine industry.

For more information, tickets, or to learn how to contribute an item to the CEO Collection or to the auction contact Linda Bailey at 509-335-7772 or lmbailey@wsu.edu.

More information about the auction and for business leaders interested in donating to the CEO Collection is available at www.wineauction.wsu.edu.