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Jun A Winemaking Tradition: Bedell Cellars Yeast Ceremony

Wine-growing regions around the world have become known for the characteristics of the wines they produce. Wine enthusiasts know wines that come from Argentina are generally ‘peppery’ in taste and those that come from the Chianti region in Italy are generally savory, for example.  

Bedell Cellars’ (Cutchogue) winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich is eager to describe the flavors found in Long Island wines. He and his team at Bedell seek to develop a singular and signature set of characteristics for the Long Island region to be known for among the greats of Napa and Burgundy.

Bedell’s mission includes a holistic approach to winemaking and their annual Yeast Ceremony is really something special.

What is ‘yeast’ and why is it important for winemaking?

Yeast is essential in the winemaking process. The presence of yeast, a single-cell organism, is responsible for converting the natural sugars of the grapes into alcohol. Without yeast fermentation, all we would have is grape juice. There are over 1,500 species of yeast, and each produces different flavor components and aromatic compounds during the fermentation process.

Bedell’s 17 grape varietals are picked by hand into baskets in the early fall, usually September. The clusters are either pressed whole and the juice separated (white wines) or allowed to ferment whole (red wines). Yeast is already present on the surface of the grapes, and the fermentation process takes about 14 days at a temperature of 65 degrees.

Many younger wineries add commercially-produced yeast to their winemaking process. The problem with this, however, is that those yeasts are sourced from other regions and therefore the wines produced from them can take on the characteristics of those origins.

A Ceremony for Yeast

In pursuit of a signature Long Island terroir (a term used to describe the environmental factors like soil and climate that contribute to the taste of a wine), Bedell has come up with a solution to nod to their holistic winemaking approach that is even a bit romantic: an annual yeast ceremony at the vineyard.


All Bedell employees, from the field to the vineyard to the cellar, are invited to the September soiree. It follows the first harvest and a small amount of juice is extracted from the grapes. Everyone is asked to bring something that is natural and characteristic of the North Fork of Long Island. Indigenous plant material, flowers, seashells, minerals, and pieces of trees are some of the things added to that first extraction of juice to make a unique population of yeasts. From there, a small bit is added to each wine fermentation.

The idea is that by looking further into the region, Bedell Cellars creates a vintage that includes all of the natural flavors and aromas of Long Island effectively creating the Long Island Terroir. Of the yeast, Rich says “It’s like Mother Nature designed it for us to reflect the North Fork.”

The Long Island Terroir

The Long Island terroir is unique. Because we experience a cooler climate compared to many other wine-growing regions, our wines are slightly lower in alcohol content and their acidity is well-preserved.

Bedell’s signature vintages are crisp, aromatic and balanced. Besides the climate, the proximity of Long Island wine country to the ocean and the sound lead to higher saline content in the soil which gives the wines grown here a distinct minerality. The wines produced here retain their flavors and are becoming more recognizable around the world season after season.


Bedell Cellars is located in Cutchogue, a short drive from Hotel Indigo. To plan a visit with an overnight stay, contact Hotel Indigo at 631.369.2200 ext. 0 or check out our North Fork Uncorked wine tour.