A year ago today, I posted my tasting notes on our perrys ahead of their first racking. Today I've been in the ciderhouse, sipping, swirling and nosing my way through the fermenters, and what a difference a year makes.
Last year we went over (almost) exclusively to 'wild yeast fermentations', relying on the naturally occurring micro flora on the fruit and in the ciderhouse to initiate the fermentations, rather than the addition of a single strain cultured yeast as we've done previously. Cultured yeasts are preferred by many cidermakers for their tendency to produce rapid fermentations, even in very cold weather, and give predictable results. Wild yeast fermentations on the other hand can be slow to start, and may give unpredictable results. So why do we choose this more risky path?
The short answer is 'complexity'. If managed well, through a combination of good hygiene, and the careful use of Sulphites to control unwanted spoilage organisms, wild yeast fermentations will usually produce more complex ciders and perrys. This is because in the initial stages of fermentation, a range of yeasts will be present, all working slightly differently to each other, and therefore producing a slightly different flavour profile. Of perhaps equal importance is the speed of the fermentation. A cultured yeast will have been selected to do a specific job as efficiently as possible. Under ideal conditions, a cultured 'cider' yeast can ferment out the juice to bone-dry in a matter of weeks. These fast fermentations can often lead to the more subtle esters and aromatic components being 'blown-off' in the froth and fizz. Wild yeast fermentations are generally much slower, and can result in more of the flavour being retained.
Unfortunately, we had some difficulty getting the wild yeasts in our perrys to start fermenting last season, and in most cases we resorted to adding a cultured yeast. I'm happy to say that this seasons perrys were much better behaved, and after a couple of weeks anxious wait, they all started to gently ferment away without the need for our intervention. Then things got very cold! Fermentation all but stopped in the perrys, and even now, things are moving pretty slowly.
So, it's a different season, with different growing conditions, and a generally later harvest than we experienced in 2009. Plus, we've done things somewhat differently in the ciderhouse. It's perhaps no surprise then that things have turned out rather differently, which just goes to highlight the very seasonal, and 'vintage' nature of cidermaking.