White Powder, white dust… call it what you want; but in viticulture, it’s called yeast.
I was just reminded of this in a conversation with my buddy Chef John Ash, as we were brainstorming on a project for Ron Rubin Vineyards. John was talking about how people sometimes look at grapes, see the white dust on them, and want to dust them off. He loves to tell people, “It’s just the magic on the grapes, and once the skin of the grape is broken, the yeast just comes alive and does its job.
I told him a quick version of this story, of how – when I was at Robert Mondavi Winery – I used to explain winemaking by telling them this story:
Why I Want to be Born Reborn as a Yeast on a Chardonnay Grape
Think about it… As a yeast, the grape that you’ve been resting on was just plucked from its very foundations, its rachis. This is where you and your grape had quietly been hanging for about four to five months… The grape was plumping out, filling with hydration and sucrose, and basking in the sun. It was ripe and filled with nectar. As this process happened, there was a slight tear in the skin, and the juice surrounding me (the yeast) caused me to become activated from my sleepy slumber. Yawningly I realize, this stuff is goooood! Baby, oh baby.
I’ve been moved into some very pricey French real estate. French Oak, yes! It’s a rather small unit, about 60 gallons, but it just feels right.
I get to inhale the scents of forests in France, where timber is valued, and it makes such a beautiful, natural home. In this process, there’s some heat being given off as I eat all this sucrose. One part of my world is changing sugar into alcohol (as a byproduct). The other thing that’s happening is that I’m also giving off a bit of carbon dioxide gas (oh, dear).
But things still seem to be okay. People are moving things around inside my home a couple of times a day, and anytime it seems to be getting a bit too warm, someone really nice chills things down just a tad in the huge outer room where I’m living.
Now, for the next eight days, all I have to do is eat sugar. Sugar!
- No weight gain.
- No cavities.
- No diabetes.
- No hypertension.
This is the life, Man! Just eating nothing but sugar for eight days… Then… I’ve made so much alcohol, that I asphyxiate and die…. But… I didn’t really care.
Life was short, but sweet.
People in my classes giggled along the way… Including many of the children who would end on my tour. The kids would quietly twist and turn in body language, lamenting that they weren’t at Disneyland. But, they’d walk away with a lesson in fermentation and a glass of juice, feeling like they had just revisited Fred Rogers’ Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood… Everyone could relate and remember.