Shea A.J. Comfort, Consultant-Winemaker
Working With You To Improve Your Wines and Spirits!

My winemaking philosophy and consultation services
On fruit and musts...
When I started making wine, I worked hard to learn how to
make the
best wine possible from some fairly average vineyards. In the end, I found I was able to make good wine given the fruit I had to work with. Eventually, however, when I was fortunate enough to work with premium, high-end fruit, I did the same amount of work as for previous vintages, but this time the resultant wine was really much better in every way.

I know it’s a cliché, but great wine does indeed come from great fruit. This is not news and my own experiences have shown this to be the case. But, just why is this so? I think that it can be summed up as follows: great fruit already has all of the individual components present that are needed to make great wine, namely complexity, depth of fruit character, correct pH, presence of positive structuring elements, along with a lack of detrimental ones. And what, then, makes fruit less than great? Deficiencies in one. or perhaps more of these ideal qualities. Basically, no matter how hard you try, if it isn’t in the fermentation it isn’t going to come out in the final wine…

Please notice that I said “fermentation” and not the “fruit." If you are working with fruit that is less than ideal for whatever the reason, (ex: bad weather, poor timing, not so ideal vineyard practices, or even location, etc.),  it makes no sense whatsoever to just leave it that way when there are so many specialty products available to address these issues.

But, these can be quite powerful tools and if you are not careful you can very easily overdo it. In the end you may even wind up losing individual qualities that are unique to your wine. So, what to do? Well, the first thing to determine is whether you really need to do anything at all. The cure could be worse than the ailment and many times just getting out of the way of the fruit is really the best solution. However, occasionally something is indeed missing and this is when the winemaker really needs to exercise a blend of art and science. Yes, œnology has given us these tools but we must apply them in an artful and sensitive manner; the package may say the dosage rate is 15 g/hL, but perhaps all you really need is 2 g/hL to bring the wine back into balance.

At the end of the day, of course nothing replaces attentive and careful winemaking practices and obviously there is no one product that you can add to a wine that will of itself turn it from "Chateau So-So” to "Chateau Fantastique.” However, I do believe these tools, when understood and used carefully, are an indispensable part of any winemaker's arsenal.

Yeast and ML bacteria
Once the must is in balance, the stage is set and it’s time for the yeast to shine. I never stop being impressed by the ability of yeast to uniquely shape a final wine and I have spent a lot of time getting to know them. Whether you are looking for refined and focused, or fat and opulent, there is a strain that will do that. Over time, however, I have realized that no single yeast has all of the qualities that I would like and therefore I have become an avid advocate of using multiple strains and then blending them to build the final wine. In addition to the yeast, these past few years I have come to see similar results from using various Malo-Lactic Bacteria. These results are so persuasive, I feel when it comes time to decide which yeast combinations will be used in creating a particular wine, that decision cannot be effectively made without also considering how they will pair with the MLB.

Consultation services

In the cellar in Tokaj, Hungary My years of using multiple, individual yeast and MLB strains in each varietal and then blending them to create different wines over several vintages has allowed me to better understand what components might be useful for dialing in a desired wine style, kind of like organoleptic reverse engineering. I also feel that I can impart this way of thinking to other winemakers so that when I leave, you are not just following some static set of directions/recipes, but actually understand the underlying concepts and can then make your own informed decisions about future wine styles.

•  Creating a balanced must: A balanced must is critical to making nice
    wine, and I can show you how to both test and taste for this, as well as
    how to create options for individual wine styles. Getting the pH, Brix,
    tannins and other structural
elements in harmony before you begin the
    fermentation is absolutely critical to making beautiful wine!

•  Fermentation management: Of course, it does no good to have the right
    yeasts in a balanced must if you
don’t manage your fermentation properly. There are several, critical
    interconnected elements involved in this and their
sum total has a direct affect on the outcome of the
   final wine. The most notable of these are temperature, nutrients, tannins and oxygen. Understanding
    this is actually quite important and I will be happy to explain exactly why.

•  Wine handling/cellaring: The handling of the wine during its' cellaring/ageing process also affects the final
    wine quite a bit in ways that may not be readily apparent. In addition, the wine must continuously be
    monitored to make sure it is developing as we would like. SO2, tannin management, oak integration and
    mouthfeel/structure are all being worked on during the entire ageing process. Just because the wine is in
    the carboy, tank, or barrel doesn't mean our job as winemakers is done yet.

•  Bench trials: It is really only by tasting the impact individual winemaking products have on our wines that
    we are able develop both our palate and increase our understanding of how to use these tools. If we are
    extremely lucky, our wines will be perfectly balanced year after year without us having to do anything.
    However, if at some point a corrective action/adjustment is needed, then it is nice to know which product(s)
    gives us the tools to do the job. Interestingly, the best results usually come from blending small amounts of
    more than one product together and I can help you learn how to do this effectively.

•  Blending: Finally, I would be happy to assist in any blending questions/decisions.

All of these above mentioned services are completely symbiotic and really need to be thought of as being complimentary, and not separate from each other. Any wine will only be as good as the weakest link in its' chain of creation.