This Austrian Winemaker Is Using Music to Ferment His Wines

Forget about the weather or the terroir. What if music was the secret ingredient to forging tasty, full-bodied, flavorsome wines?

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Dec 23 2014, 7:00pm

Forget about the weather or the terroir. What if music was the secret ingredient to forging tasty, full-bodied, flavorsome wines?

You might have already heard about Italy's Paradiso di Frassina or South African DeMorgenzon's crazed musical experiments on vines. These two estates have installed loudspeakers in their organically farmed vineyards and have been playing classical music to their growing plants—whole year, day and night. They both believe that music improves their plants' growing cycle. As a result, Paradiso di Frassina's vines appear to be more resistant to stress caused by factors like dryness, rain, and wind, and have an enhanced biological cycle—grapes can be harvested up to 15 days earlier than usual.

As crazy, unbelievable, and odd as it may sound, it does not even come close to a Viennese restaurateur Markus Bachmann's new uncanny project. This former orchestra trombone player inserted a loudspeaker into the fermenting wine tank, allowing the sound to presumably infuse and react with the bubbling must. But how can the wine benefit from music?

Fermentation is a complex biochemical process during which yeast converts grape sugar into ethanol and CO2. It determines the future quality of wine and occurs shortly after the harvest, once the fruits have been destemmed and crushed, and the must (grape juice) has been extracted from the grapes. The fermentation process can last for as little as four to seven days for red wines, and as long as several weeks to months for white wines. The final success relies on a broad set of factors, such as the type of yeast, the initial sugar concentration, and heat regulation.

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And music, perhaps. Bachmann believes that the sound reacts with the microorganisms so as to bring out their hidden superpowers. "Thanks to music, yeast can do much more than we used to believe," he asserts. Inside the tank, music treats the microscopic single-cell fungi to a true rejuvenating cure as volume, frequencies, and pulse carry and rock them around the vessel. Not having to worry about spending their energy on movement, they instead focus on relaxing and gobbling down sugar. "There is 30 percent more living yeast in my fermentation tanks than in the ordinary ones. It is alive and kicking," boasts Bachmann. Music also has a substantial impact on the fermentation environment. "The sound waves break the big CO2 bubbles into smaller and rounder ones, thus enabling a steady and harmonious fermentation at a constant temperature of 18° C to 20° C (64º F to 68ºF)," he explains.

These wines, known as Sonor Wines, have a larger variety of flavors, are drier and have higher alcohol levels than those produced using the old-fashioned rules. The increased yeast activity raises the glycerol level in the tank, which translates into fuller-bodied wines with richer and oilier texture. As a result, young wines taste as if they were three years old. They might even display woody aromas without even seeing an actual barrel.

To achieve such spectacular results, Bachmann has played some of the greatest classical masterpieces to his must, although he admits that any sort of music could do the trick. "There is a slight difference in the taste when I compare wine fermented with pop music and the one fermented with classical music," acknowledges the inventor. "This might actually be the only esoteric part of the process, as the differences are very subtle and very few people can define them. I, of course, can see the difference," he adds, laughing.

From the onset of this unusual experiment, Bachmann—currently the managing director of Sonor Wines—has been cooperating with a team of Austrian winemakers. They provided him with the must, while he arranged for the musical accompaniment.

One of them, Peter Uhler, a winemaker and violin player from Vienna, has made two vintages of Sonor Wiener Gemischter Satz (a Viennese white wine specialty). He even decided to incorporate his own music, a mix of classical music and Schrammelmusik (a typical Viennese style of folk music) to the fermenting wine. He describes the outcome as "simply great."

His colleague Stefan Ott, a vintner from the Carnuntum region, has made Sonor Wines from two red, autochthonous grape varieties: Zweigelt and Roesler. They must have enjoyed their dose of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony and Johann Strauss' operetta Wiener Blut (Viennese Blood or Viennese Soul), since they mutated into "wines with finer tannins and a longer finish."

In more economic terms, Sonor Wines technology may offer a wide range of advantages in the marketplace. The wine is cheaper to produce; it is tastier, more refined and makes for a pretty interesting curiosity. And let's face it—laid-back, big-mouthed yeast is damn sexy.

But all this sounds too good to be true, scientists say.

Professor Reinhard Eder, head of the Austrian Klosterneuburg Viticulture Institute, is far from being convinced by these stories. "There is no scientific evidence supporting the theory that music improves the quality of wine," he says. In fact, the existing data only consist of a single trial performed on two samples of wines, one fermented with music and the other without it. "There were no significant differences between the two products, although there might have been a slight difference in yeast growth," he reckons. "However, this evidence is very preliminary and should be taken with caution," he adds.

Neither criticism nor the lack of viable scientific data can discourage Bachmann, though. To the contrary, he is dreaming big. He will soon set off to export the idea to the United States, where his method has already attracted some attention. Keeping further details secret, he simply adds that Sonor Wines will be produced in collaboration with the US music industry. "It is going to be a real treat for many music fans out there who will soon be able to assess the impact of their favorite rock star on fermenting grape juice," he promises.

Oh, and did I mention Markus Bachmann is into Sonor Beers too?