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Mention Lallemand’s name to winemakers around the world, and you’ll likely get a nod of recognition. A world leader in yeast production and microbiology solutions for winemakers since 1970, Lallemand has production facilities and distribution centres in 50 countries on five continents.

Despite its global reach, Lallemand is a Canadian company. Since 1952, it has been owned and operated by the Chagnon family and it is headed by Antoine Chagnon, part of the third generation of the family to be involved.

However, the company’s roots go back much further to an Alsatian immigrant in the 19th century who started a baking yeast business in Montreal, Que.

The Chagnon family, company headquarters and research facilities, and most of the team’s Canadian employees are still located in Montreal, but there are also production facilities and offices in Ontario. Yeast plants are located in 14 countries, including Austria, Canada, Germany, Portugal and Italy.

These days, in addition to baking yeasts, Lallemand has products for brewers, distillers and, of course, winemakers.

“We don’t really create yeasts. We simply select the best from nature.”

Gordon Specht, Lallemand

While there’s much talk about spontaneous (wild) yeasts in winemaking circles these days, it may not be the correct choice for many wineries as the risks involved – stuck fermentation, unpredictable results, etc. – can be expensive, time-consuming and unpalatable. That’s why commercial yeast is essential as the guesswork has been removed, which allows winemakers to focus on other aspects of their wine.

“We don’t really create yeasts,” said Gordon Specht, Lallemand’s area manager, North America. “We simply select the best from nature.”

It takes about four years, and sometimes as long as seven, to select and develop a commercial yeast product. A Lallemand or university researcher will take samples at a winery or processing facility, and then set up test fermentations to see if the yeast shows potential, asking the following questions: Does it ferment well? Does it ferment quickly? Is it strong and active? How does the resulting wine taste?

“Sometimes we’ll find one that seems to check all the boxes: It’s a reliable fermenter. It doesn’t produce any funky or off aromas or flavours,” Specht said. “Then we see if we are able to dry it and offer it in a commercial format.”

Most wineries buy yeasts in an active dried form. “It has less than eight per cent moisture content, so it’s quite stable,” Specht said. “And it can be stored at the winery for a long time.” A typical yeast is shelf-stable for up to four years. “After that, they lose their robustness,” he said. “It takes them longer to wake up.”

Lallemand Oenology offers about 100 wine yeasts, all geared toward specific grapes, fermentation conditions and winemaking styles. Winemakers can request charts to help choose the yeasts and specific yeast derivatives they need to express the flavour profiles they want in their wines.

The Lallemand Oenology team, which includes top microbiologists, food engineers and oenologists from around the world, works with oenology schools and research centres to develop new products. They collaborate with the University of British Columbia Wine Research Centre, Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician Program and Brock University’s Oenology and Viticulture Program, testing on small batches of yeasts.

International collaborations are also key to Lallemand’s business.

Lalvin New Burgundy Chardonnay is a vigorous new yeast strain that was isolated from Chardonnay fermented in France by the Centre Oenologique de Bourgogne. Lallemand’s researchers selected it because it is a reliable fermenter and it has the ability to contribute to a fresh, refined Chablis style with mineral, citrus and floral notes.

“It’s very good at complimenting styles that are more flinty and mineral, more of a classic Chablis style,” said Specht. “This is for that lean, crisp, fresh mineral style of Chardonnay, not that fatty, oaky, creamy style.”

Another new Lallemand product is the Level 2 Initia Metschnikowia Pulcherrima, a non-Saccharomyces yeast selection that helps protect white and rosé juice from oxidation during the winemaking process. From a selection made by Vincent Gerbaux at the Institut Francais de la Vigne et du Vin in Beaune, France, it results in fresher aromatics and brighter colours for white and rosé wines.

Saccharomyces is the typical food yeast used in baking, distilling and winemaking, and has been a primary part of the Lallemand Oenology catalogue since the get-go.

However, these days the team has also been putting a lot of research emphasis on non-Saccharomyces yeasts, exploring their potential in the winemaking process. Lallemand offers five different types in North America, and they can already see where these products are proving to be useful for winemakers, Specht says.

“Our basic philosophy is to find unique products to help winemakers. We are always looking toward the future.”

Gordon Specht, Lallemand

One appeal is their protective capabilities, which help to keep freshness and slow oxidation. “Normally, the only way you can achieve this protective effect in winemaking is by adding [sulphur dioxide],” Specht said. “But you can add a non-Saccharomyces yeast selection such as the Level 2 Inita™, and you’re able to achieve as good if not better antioxidant effects.

“There is interest in the wine industry in general in lowering the number of chemical inputs such as SO2. Something like this can really help and it will certainly improve the fruit quality of the wine.”

Another new Lallemand product is Go-Ferm Sterol Flash™, a yeast rehydration protector for yeast preparation, to be used with cool water. Providing the same benefits to yeast as Lallemand’s Go-Ferm Protect Evolution™, this new yeast protector doesn’t require warm water for preparation. It saves time, labour and water, which is especially important these days, and the yeast’s growth isn’t compromised.

“Before, winemakers would typically use warm water, add the yeast protector and, once it was in suspension, you could add the yeast. The overall process would take more than an hour,” Specht said. “But with Go-Ferm Sterol Flash™, the entire process takes about 15 to 20 minutes. It’s a big time saver for winemakers and their cellar staff.”

Feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive since the product was launched in Canada in 2023. “Anything that saves time during crush is a big plus,” Specht said.

Also new in Canada, Stimula Pinot Noir™, is a high-nitrogen yeast nutrient powder that is added at the start of fermentation to optimize a yeast’s ability to produce red and black fruit aromas, while simultaneously masking herbaceous and vegetal notes.

“It will help direct the style, but it will not make fruit from different areas taste the same,” Specht said. “If you are starting with fruit that is very light, a very finesse-oriented Pinot Noir, for instance, it will help you continue in that direction. It works with what you’re starting with.”

With a focus on innovation, the Lallemand Oenology team has plenty of new projects and products in the works, including inactivated yeast sprays to push phenolic maturity, so ripening is more consistent. “In general, we are looking at anything that can replace chemical inputs, whether it’s in the vineyard or in the cellar,” Specht said.

“Our basic philosophy is to find unique products to help winemakers. We are always looking toward the future.”

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