Wild yeast and spontaneous fermentations, which are today one of the key points of the natural wine movement, are linked to ancestral Mediterranean traditions that remain a source of culture and inspiration for many winegrowers all over the world.
Today I posted this photo on Facebook, with that caption: “The force of wild yeast only three days after the harvest surprised me, because it normally takes this much time only to see the first bubbles. On this vintage, the fermentation is powerful enough to lift the tank’s cover, and to throw it on the floor. I am lucky to witness a miracle, my eyes and heart full of wonder.”
In a minute, Shelly, my friend and sister from Colorado, wrote that: “Damn your yeast, she is a beast!”
I had never thought about the fact that yeast is a masculine word in Italian, but feminine in English, and I just LOVE that. Now I think that English is right, and Italian is wrong. Because the power of life, of reproduction and of creation is, and always has been, in women's hands.
All the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean worshipped Demeter, the personification of primeval Mother Earth, and her daughter Persephone, who they also called Kore, or “the Maiden”. In the mythological traditions, Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnapped Persephone because he was so in love with her that he could not live without seeing her beauty. Her disappearing from the Earth caused long ages of grief, drought and misery: the trees stopped to give fruits, all the crops dried out, and the Earth soon became a desolate and infertile land.
Demeter was so desperate for the long famine that she ran around for years to look for her daughter. When she finally found her, she came to an agreement with Hades: Persephone should return to the Earth for six months during spring and summer, so that the human race would survive thanks to her fertility, and she would come back to the underworld during fall and winter.
From that moment on, Demeter became the goddess of abundance (Malophoros, or The Fruit Bringer) and the goddess who regulate the chaos of Nature and the feminine fertility (Tesmophoros, or The Law Bringer).
I believe that yeast is the icon of Mother Earth’s power and magnificence: she gets dormant during the winter and returns every spring to impregnate all the fruits of nature with the power of creation that is able to transform grapes into the miraculous gift of wine.