Have you met Brett? Brett is mentioned so often in the wine industry that you might think he’s Robert Parker’s protégé nephew. Not so, but the truth is just as controversial.

Brett, known technically as Brettanomyces bruxellensis, is a yeast. That puts it into the same category as our old friend Saccharomyces cerevisiae, used for millennia to ferment juice into wine, and make bread rise.

Brettanomyces can ferment, too. It was first discovered in beer (as a cause of spoilage in an English ale, hence the name which means “British fungus”) and is used to advantage by some adventurous brewers in sour ales.

In wine, though, Brett is never added on purpose, but often finds its way in by accident. The “stealth bug” of the wine microbial crowd, Brett grows very slowly and can survive on remarkably slim pickings: the tiny amount of sugar found in “dry” wines, ethanol (yes, it can use alcohol as an energy source), acetic acid, and even the cellulose in wood.

4-EP Molecule

If you’ve ever tried sour ale, you have an inkling of the flavors associated with Brett. One of those flavors, naturally, is sour: Brett can produce gobs of acetic acid, the same acid that gives vinegar its tang. Long before it tries to turn wine into vinegar, however, Brett throws off troublesome smelly compounds that clearly mark its presence: 4-ethylphenol (4-EP), 4-ethylguaicaol (4-EG), and isovaleric acid, among a few less notable others. “Unique” is the nicest way to describe these aromas. At best, you might call them “spicy” and “leather;” at higher concentrations, “barnyard” and “horsey;” at worst, “wet dog” and even “sewage.”

4-EG Molecule

Spice and even occasionally leather can be appealing in some wines, but horsey or sewage odors are certainly not a compliment. Whether Brett character in a wine is good, bad, or acceptable is like the debate over what constitutes “real” barbeque among Southerners: the argument is a matter of subjectivity and taste, meaning no one can ever win.

Historically, the French Rhône Valley has been associated with reds containing Brett. Some prominent houses—Château de Beaucastel perhaps most famously—are so well known for a certain degree of Brett influence that it defines part of the house style. The key words there are “a certain degree.” Admirers say that a little bit of Brett–the spicy rather than the sewage end of the spectrum–contributes to an earthy texture and accentuates terroir. Others—notably most Americans—claim the exact opposite, that Brett destroys both fruit and character.

So what if you do want a some of these characteristics in your wine? Could you just throw a little in?

If only it were that simple; winemakers would rest a good deal easier at night. In truth, the struggle to bridle Brett has gone on for decades and is as yet unsuccessful. Not only can we not yet control the amount of Brett in a wine, we can’t even completely eradicate it. A popular suggestion for how to deal with a Brett problem is “burn down the winery and start over.” The speaker isn’t always joking.

How does Brett infiltrate a winery? Another million-dollar question. A few theories dominate the discussion, but it remains a contentious debate. Brett can move from winery to winery in contaminated wine (bulk wine sold from one winery to another), on grapes, or on used equipment.

Used oak barrels are notorious carriers of Brett. With its unusual capacity to metabolize the cellulose in wood, the microorganism can survive in oak barrels for years. Brett has been found as far as 8mm deep into the oak, making decontamination nearly impossible.

If burning down the winery and starting over again isn’t an option, what is? One tactic is to keep the infection localized to a few barrels, blend, and decide that you like some Bretty-ness in your wine. Alternately, bring out every antimicrobial agent in the book, cross your fingers, and pray.

The anti-Brett arsenal is vast and continually growing but, as a whole, not all that potent. The most common and most effective solutions include:

  • Good winery hygiene: Lots of water and sanitizing solution go a long way.
  • SO2: Sulfur dioxide is used as a general antimicrobial agent in wine, but many Brett strains are resistant to the legal maximum dose.
  • Hot steam sterilization of barrels: Expensive and not completely effective, but helpful.
  • Velcorin: A powerful antimicrobial chemical (trademarked by Scott Labs) that breaks down to (mostly) water and CO2 only a few hours after being added to wine and, like everything else, is only partially effective against Brett.
  • Filtering: This will do the job, but at what expense? To some, the only cost is the time and money spent on filtering. But some believe the 0.45 – 0.65 micrometer membrane sterile filtration necessary to eliminate yeasts also eliminates spirit and identity.

Some wineries don’t seem to have contracted Brett (yet), some wage constant war against the microbial monster, and some don’t acknowledge it.

But what about wineries—like Château Beaucastel—whose shade of Brett character is downright alluring, at least to some connoisseurs? For them, total Brettanomyces extermination might prove disastrous. What makes a little a boon to some wineries and a bane to others? Is it all personal taste, or are other factors involved?

People who become very excited over Brettanomyces are investigating those questions at this very moment. Just a few of the possibilities include:

  • Consumer preference: Some published research suggests the French tolerate more Brett character than Americans.
  • Amount of 4-EP and 4-EG: Some wines naturally have less of the precursor molecules that Brett metabolizes to 4-EP and 4-EG. In general, grapes from cooler climates—like France—have less of these compounds than grapes from warmer climates, like parts of California. That might mean French wines start off less likely to become stinky when Brett moves in than their Californian counterparts.
  • Ratio of 4-EP to 4-EG: 4-EP is usually associated with unpleasant barnyard aromas, while 4-EG aligns with far more pleasant clove and spice notes. 4-EP always predominates over 4-EG, but some strains of Brett, and some wines, are predisposed toward higher ratios than others.
  • Type of Brett: What if the Brett strains found in different places have different characteristics? It is often true in microbiology that great variability exists among strains (different organisms isolated from different places) within the same species. Research is beginning to show that the Brett lurking in French wineries may have radically different characteristics than that in California or Australia.
  • Age of the wine: Not only can Brett survive locked up in a wine bottle, it can multiply and yield its signature aromas. The wine you find seductively barnyardy today may reek of old horse sweat in a few years. Even a single cell per bottle can make a difference, as fans of filtration love to point out.

So, have you met Brett? Even though you may not have realized it at the time, the chances are excellent that you have sniffed Brett’s signature scent sometime in your life with wine.

Perhaps you would like to revisit the experience with greater awareness? Don’t look for “hint of Brettanomyces” on the back of a wine label; to most winemakers, that idea is worse than cursing the family name.

No guarantees, but the best-stocked Brett fishing holes are barrel-aged reds from the Rhône valley, Rioja, Piedmont or Chianti, and perhaps Bordeaux. Brett can certainly be found elsewhere, but your odds become less certain. Explore.

Do you fall among the hard-line anti-Brett crowd, or among those who enjoy a little Brett in the right place and time? If you have not already leapt to your feet to lobby for one side or the other (did I mention people tend to be a bit vehement about Brett?), begin paying attention. Keep your eyes, mouth, and nose open, and consider that a particularly distinctive aroma may be Brett’s calling card. Most importantly, form your own educated opinion.

Erika Szymanski was blessed with parents who taught her that wine was part of a good meal, who believed that well-behaved children belonged in tasting rooms with their parents, and who had way too many books. Averting a mid-life crisis in advance, she recently returned to her native Pacific Northwest to study for a PhD in microbial enology at Washington State University. Her goal, apart from someday having goats, is melding a winery job to research on how to improve the success rate of spontaneous ferments. When tending her Brettanomyces leaves enough time, her blog Wine-o-scope keeps notes on why being a wine geek is fun.

About The Author

Science Writer

Erika Szymanski studies wine science dissemination at the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. She holds Masters degrees in both microbiology and English rhetoric and composition and wants, someday, to help improve the structures through which scientists communicate with each other, industry, and the world. Erika was named 2012 Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year for her work on Palate Press.

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51 Responses

  1. Jim

    Very nice overview of what brett is and how it affects wine. The point about brett continuing to live in each bottle is important; the Trappist beer Orval is a great example. A “new” Orval tastes sweeter and softer in texture; as the deliberately inoculated Brett ferments inside the bottle, the beer develops incredible complixity and becomes noticeably drier.

    In wine, some might see it as developing tertiary aromas from aging, but it happens at a quicker pace than proper cellaring. If you’re a winemaker who enjoys a bit of brett in your wine, controlling and balancing it has got to be the most difficult part.

    BTW, you’ve accidentally identified Chianti as being in Piedmont.



  2. 1WineDude

    Great overview and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this statement:

    “Not only can we not yet control the amount of Brett in a wine, we can’t even completely eradicate it.”

    I think this is key to understanding that Brett is a flaw. What I mean is, it is technically a flaw until it can be controlled in some way – until then, it’s an unwanted pest to those who don’t like it, and a lucky draw for those (unfortunately misguided and probably slightly insane 🙂 that do.


  3. Isotope

    “Filtering: This will do the job, but at what expense? To some, the only cost is the time and money spent on filtering. But some believe the 0.45 – 0.65 micrometer membrane sterile filtration necessary to eliminate yeasts also eliminates spirit and identity.”

    Only a consummate moron would argue that filtration eliminates spirit and identity. A 0.22 uM crossflow canister filter (which is far superior to the 0.45) is made out of PTFE. PTFE is used in analytical labs all over the world in every industry, why? Because nothing relevant can bind to it. “Winemakers” that believe that the bacteria and yeast create “spirit and identity” seem to have the belief that drinking toilet water is an attractive plan, just have an OR Pinot Noir from 2007 and you’ll understand.

    Filtration should be happily welcomed as an integral part of a winemaking plan, but there always be those THC clouded hippies that for some reason came into money and have no understanding of basic wine microbiology and their gimmick has to be the “hemp” style wine that they are “making”, probably “biodynamically” man.

    Brett is easily detected by PCR, and I’m not talking about the overpriced scorpion, you can have a complete bio setup for under 8k and that pays off easily within 2 years. Guess what, management isn’t all that difficult if you hire biologists/molecular folks to track the organisms. Nevermind, that would be looking to the present, rather than to the past for solutions…

  4. Wino

    Nice article. One note though…chianti is not in Piemonte 🙂

  5. JP Kaminga

    Nice article. The Piedmont thing was glaring for sure but based on the fact that the rest of the article seemed to be well researched and considerably balanced I figured it was an honest typographical issue.

    @Isotope: what do you think a well made 2007 Oregon Pinot is going to reveal besides the effects of a cool growing season, also the way you put it I gather that you think every wine should be filtered, an odd proposition in my opinion.

  6. Erika Szymanski

    Yes, “the Piedmont thing” was an honest typographical mistake. Thanks for giving me that benefit of the doubt, JP.

    Now I definitely need to go out and find a bottle of Orval beer to try. Make that two bottles: one to drink today, one to store for a few weeks. I wonder, though, will I be able to find a fresh enough bottle on a store shelf for the difference to be as significant as you describe it, Jim? Brett development in beer versus wine is a fascinating comparison, as the lower alcohol levels (and perhaps a few other factors I can’t name? Nitrogen?) permit much faster Brett growth in the former than the latter.

  7. Erika Szymanski

    Isotope, I felt that your comment warrented a separate response. Opinions definitely differ on the topic of filtration; that’s the point. Still, lots of winemakers — no quote marks required — feel that filtration removes something important from their wines. This is a fact. An opinion — mine — is that some of those folks make some darn good wine.

    With respect to the PTFE filter, the issue isn’t what binds to the material out of which the filter is made. The point is what the pores in the filter will — or won’t — permit, or allow to pass through into the filtrate. Colloids can be big, and wine is full of them. Pigmented and flavor-carrying colloids in wine can be trapped by a .22uM filter. Looking at the “in” side of such a filter is evidence enough of this. More important for some wines than others, unquestionably, but important nonetheless.

  8. Ryan Reichert

    Nice article Erika!

    And I can apologize on behalf of the editorial team here. It was supposed to be “Piedmont or Chianti …” but it slipped through. We’ve made the correction, and appreciate everyone’s mindful reading/comments.

  9. Isotope

    JP Kaminga:

    What makes it an odd proposition to have all wines filtered? Most “winemakers” aren’t qualified to judge whether or not their wine is biologically sound, aka safe for human consumption. Some of the strains of bacteria that can grow in a beer and cause spoilage have a gene set called HorA which codes for a multi-drug efflux pump. Aren’t those same beer spoilage flavors the same flavors you get from wine spoilage bacteria? (Yes, they are also the exact same species in many cases) Wouldn’t you hate for people to be inoculated with antibiotic resistance genes in their intestines by their product? Aren’t the biogenic amines that are a direct result of wet harvests potentially harmful to some people and most certainly among the foul flavors found in wines made during “difficult” seasons? If only the FDA had more employees and cash. Don’t believe me, just call ETS and ask them which state has the highest concentration of biogenic amines. Oh I forgot, they don’t care up there in OR, as long as the wine is made all green and sustainable and biodynamically; this wine tastes like a horn full of poo, classic.


    “Winemakers” always deserves quotes, as there is no such thing, outside of our poor un-interesting microbial population that has absolutely nothing to do with “terroir”. So what colloid flavor/color particle is larger than a bacteria, is it the wine Quark? I’m immensely curious about this research which I’m sure is in some reputable journal like AJEV. You can’t look at the “in” side of a crossflow exactly, the crap that is caught by the “in” side of a non-crossflow filter, I recommend tasting, and then add that back to your wine, you’ll have lots and lots of *snicker* flavor. In fact, quit racking, or what I like to call, removing the supernatant. See, that whole racking crap is intervention, you will lose the important flavor colloids!!!

    Here’s a delightful idea. Why not take a wine that’s not been filtered, split it in half, and filter one half through a crossflow. Leave the other alone. Sparge the half filtered with an inert gas (N2 or Ar) until you have equal dissolved oxygen contents. Blind taste it. Guess what, no freaking difference. Why bother with that experiment? After all, “winemakers” have “opinions” and they need to be respected, their super acute taste-buds can totally taste the difference between 0.001% and 0.000% of dissolved solids. All the expensive and rigorous schooling they go through to have the ability to make such astute observations makes my silly argument simply pointless. All those California wineries that already did this dissolved oxygen experiment in the 80’s should be ignored too, after all, their foul state gave us crappy things like Katy Perry and White Zinfandel.

    As a student of the wisdom of so many “winemakers”, and mind you, I’ve been on the receiving end of their truly mind boggling wisdom, I am curious why you have chosen to avoid my very poignant point, which is that the molecular biology is cheap, accessible and available. In fact the methods are ALL published, mostly in free journals and notably not the immensely ground-breaking pdf version of toilet paper that is AJEV. Is it because the industry is so insular and backward they can’t look at the beer research, or research done in any number of comparable fields?

    The wine industry reminds me of Buddhism, of course only in that it’s like a bunch of Otto West (Kevin Kline) clones: “Apes don’t read philosophy.” Wanda (JLC) “Yes they do, Otto, they just don’t understand it! Let me correct you on a few things; Aristotle was not Belgian! The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself!” And the London Underground is not a political movement! Those are all mistakes. I looked them up!

    Thanks for the laughs, very enjoyable. Gotta love that west coast “appreciate wrong peoples opinions and just let them keep them” attitude. Very good for the progressive wine industry. How many concrete eggs have been sold this year?

  10. Mark Cochard

    Isotope, I almost spit my coffee on my screen reading your comments. You must be a fan of Alice feiring and the whole natural wine movement?
    You should get to gether with the hosemaster of wine and write a few books.
    They would be great comedy.

  11. Cato

    I prefer a horsey smell…..but never had a wine that smelled of it. Wet horse, best smell in the world unless the horse is fat!……confession of a horse owner and wine drinker.

  12. Isotope


    I love Alice Feiring, she is recurring proof of P.T. Barnum’s hypothesis.

    I’ve been on the other side of the OZ curtain in the wine industry, and I guarantee you that an equivalent, if not greater amount of processing is required to fix all of the problems from idiots who become “non-interventionist-winemakers”. I had the joy not too long ago of walking out the back door of a *very* famous “BD” producer in OR and low and behold, all these empty, already labeled bottles. What could have possibly caused them to empty them and likely re-blend them? I mean BD practices are holistic and natural and make the wine perfect! Couldn’t have been 4-EP, no, poop horns prevent negative energies!!!

    If you believe a “winemaker” that his wine didn’t have anything added, you are just plain stupid, pure and simple. Test any wine for copper content, the proof can be pulled off of any store shelf. ETS has a copper test you can pay for.

    Is anyone shopping for bridges right now? I have many for sale, three of them are biodynamic, two of them are organic (with added copper), and six are sustainable.

  13. Christian Miller

    Erika: that was a nice condensed summary of the brett issues, thanks. I am curious as to what the consumer research was that you mention, wherein brett reactions differed by country. Do you have any references or citations?

    Isotope: you need to chill out. You have a lot of interesting points, but you lose credibility with the invective. BTW, a winery I worked at in the 90s ran the filtration experiment you suggest, and came to the conclusion that there were differences (although they faded over time).

  14. Mark Cochard

    I have worked at a winery on the east coast for 19 years. Piece of cake making wine here, never rains, no humidity, no disease pressure, no rot, I mean never, everyone is BioD and Organic. :-).
    There are a few brave souls trying Like Black Ankle and Shinn but they are the exception and would probably do whatever is required in difficult years,

  15. Erika Szymanski

    Point the first: Not placing winemaker in quotes is a matter of good grammar, not a judgement value on any or all winemakers. Placing quotes around a word doesn’t change its meaning. A winemaker is one who makes wine. Enough.

    Point the second: Regarding suspended material being trapped by filtration, I don’t have a lofty AJEV paper for you and I don’t need one. Ever seen a commercial (red) wine that wasn’t completely clear (transparant, limpid, ect.) in the glass? Maybe even enjoyed a few (speaking only of reds, of course, dare I say? The particulate matter making that wine cloudy is not going to pass through a .22um or a .45 um (or a .65um, for that matter) membrane filter. If you’d like a citation to bolster common sense,

    “Wines of low clarity or that have obvious suspended solids will quickly clog or plug membranes, greatly lowering flow rates” (*Wine Microbiology*, Fugelsang and Edwards, 2007, p80)

    As you’ve noted already, that particulate matter tastes like something and may or may not add flavors the winemaker wants. May, or may not. Tasting it solo really doesn’t help answer that question, by the way. Pure tartaric acid doesn’t taste so wonderful, but most of the reds I enjoy benefit from a good dose.

    Point the third: now is a good time to mention that I never said filtration was a bad thing, and I definitely didn’t say that microbial enology analyses weren’t worth doing or weren’t worth the price in time and money. I’d be trying to put myself out of a job if I did! What I did say was merely that opinions and practices differ. As you probably know far better than I do, this is reality. Some wineries have a lab with a well-used microscope and the phone number of their local ETS rep pasted to the wall. Some don’t. A lot of problems could be fixed by the second group merging into the first.

    Point the fourth: Yep, I like horses, too, and the smell of a good, clean barn is a fine thing. I wonder if the generally greater tolerance of Europeans for Bretty flavors relates to their generally greater tolerance for animal aromas in society overall?

  16. JP Kaminga

    Thanks for your reply. I am not familiar with some of the issues you present but I am very interested to look into them. If you could suggest some avenues I would be most appreciative. I cannot however appreciate your tone. With the information you present it seems that you seek to protect people from dangerous wines but your open derision just makes part of me want to ignore you. If you have what you believe is an important message then you might consider a more moderate approach to presenting it.

    About the filtration thing: it’s odd that you believe all wines should be filtered because so many tasty wines are unfiltered and I’m sorry but I give winemakers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their decisions about how to make a better wine, especially when year in and year out they produce a good wine. I will be looking into the different types of filters you mentioned because you have piqued my interest.

    Also out of curiosity do you drink wine on a regular basis and what kind of wine do you like? I’d be curious to try some wines that a vehement defender of filtration adores. As for me Grenache and Chenin are two of my favored grapes but I’ll drink pretty much anything. I also like alot of biodynamic and organic wines. I don’t necessarily attribute the biodynamic methods to giving wines flavors I like because biodynamic wines tend to vary quite a bit but in general it seems that alot of biodynamic producers tend to have low yields and balanced use of barrels.

  17. J. Rendu

    Enjoyed your post Erika and various comments. Re. your last ‘point to the fourth’ (“I wonder if the generally greater tolerance of Europeans for Bretty flavors relates to their generally greater tolerance for animal aromas in society overall”), will only comment from my old-world perspective.

    I think our greater tolerance for Bretty-like flavors may find its roots to have been “brained-brett” washed from the time we had our first sip of wine (that is about your first birthday) out of our father or grand-father glass. It always happened at special family celebration and these bottles were always old vintages religiously dig from deep in the natural cellar/ “cave”. I bet some of these vintages were pre-modern winemaking techniques and lab analyses practices.

    These memories will build a lot more tolerance overall. I also never cease to wonder at the important cultural differences between English (UK + U.S.) vs. French society: give me back my French raw milk cheese any time over the bland/tasteless pasturized versions of the same poor imitation!

    Now, don’t read this as a black and white statement: my “Brett” tolerance has definitive limits. Basically, “Il faut un peu de tout pour faire un monde” (You need a little bit of everything to make a world), how perfect/imperfect it may be… Cheers!

  18. Isotope

    “Point the first: Not placing winemaker in quotes is a matter of good grammar, not a judgement value on any or all winemakers. Placing quotes around a word doesn’t change its meaning. A winemaker is one who makes wine. Enough.”

    A person does not make wine. Yeast and bacteria do. Grapes fall on ground = any yeast enter a rupture = wine is made = =bird eats fermenting grape = bird is drunk. Wine makes itself, a person is so not necessary. A person can take the pile of grapes and add yeast, or not, in a container, or pile, and the wine will still make itself. If you are going to approach a Ph.D. program with the belief that the person matters in the equation, you might have some enlightenment in the near future. The only relevant thing, with the current archaic state of knowledge that is *normal* in the industry is that some containers will not taste like crap and end up in the reserve. Some containers will taste somewhere between good and crap and you will have the AVA non reserve. Some containers will taste like they were in piles and will get to be in a “second label”. The title then would be wine blender. Totally more accurate, especially since the blend composition of oak is one of the few decisions that will have any effect.

    “Point the second: Regarding… that wasn’t completely clear (transparant, limpid, ect.) in the glass? Maybe even enjoyed a few (speaking only of reds, of course, dare I say? The particulate matter making that wine cloudy is not going to pass through a .22um or a .45 um (or a .65um, for that matter) membrane filter. If you’d like a citation to bolster common sense, …Fugelsang and Edwards”

    Wines that aren’t completely clear that are red tend to be full of bacteria due to unsanitary processing. Check your next cloudy one under the scope, you’ll find tons. I’ve had more than my share of red wines in my day and I don’t recall seeing too many cloudy ones, but every time I do, they go under phase contrast and I get a chuckle, and make sure never to purchase anything produced by them ever again. The Fugelsang and Edwards book is also trash. Anyone that can honestly rationalize Titratable Acidity has no understanding of the henderson-hasselbach equation and no understanding at all of complex organic acid mixtures. The fact that people buy that crap is really impressive. I’m sure Gordon is laughing his way to the bank.

    Many wines are higher in pH and that is often due to lactic acid, that’s why a bump of tartaric can change the flavor profile. You can also add KCO to remove some of the lactic which is counter-intuitive when you are looking at a pH of 3.7.

    The wine industry needs a swift kick in the pants due to the fact that many, many wines are made by people completely ignorant of good manufacturing practices and are making a consumable that in some cases can be quite dangerous, and possibly lethal to people with extreme copper allergies. If you write in a tone that is kind and respectful it will be ignored since many have made these points to the wine industry in person at seminars. Does the industry listen? Nope.

    If you are an idiot, I’m not going to candy coat it, since that makes folks complacent. That being said, my tone is going to be what I type and how it honestly comes out. I’m no politician.

    Good filtered wine: Kosta Browne, yum. Too expensive sadly and hard to get. Guess why they filter? (/Me points to article title)

  19. Erika Szymanski

    Isotope, frankly, I’m going to ignore the rest of what you say because there is no point in engaging you in dialogue when you are unwilling to make an effort to communicate. If I’m going to be an idiot, being a candy-coated one sounds like a tasty option. If I’m going to be a moron, I’d far rather be a consummate moron than a sub-par one.

    Language consists of a set of symbols with meanings agreed upon by language-users. Without this agreement, language is useless. When you are ready to agree upon the same symbols the rest of us are using, come back and chat with us.

  20. W. Blake Gray

    Isotope: You have an interesting point of view, but you have no cojones at all. Stop being anonymous and tell us who you are. Look — that’s my real name on this comment. We’ll all respect what you have to say much more if you don’t hide behind a pseudonym.

  21. Isotope

    Gray, I won’t post anymore to this topic due to the original writers inability to understand English, sorry, hopefully she’ll be taking ESL courses in furtherance of her Ph.D.

    BTW: Do you think it is advisable to give ones real name to a marginal blogger who could inject life into his stale page that has the same wash-rinse-repeat topics by being a guest on *their* forums? Not for free thanks. Isn’t Wine Spectator the target this month? Those bastages, putting extra alcohol in the wine, how dare they cause imbalance.

    Of course not a single one of you could even remotely explain why brettanomycetes, so easy to detect with molecular biology protocols, is a complete mystery to the totally not insular forward thinking collection of wine experts known as “winemakers”.

  22. Cybercellar

    Agree with 1WineDude. You either like it or you don’t and it’s not a flaw if controlled.

    Thanks for the review.

  23. Erika Szymanski

    Isotope, if you want to make this personal, let’s take it outside. Thank you for agreeing to silence yourself in this arena.

  24. Randy

    One other way to keep the yeast at bay is harvesting grapes with lower sugar/higher natural acid ratios. High acid, low ph makes for a very aggressive environment for Brett to thrive. It’s natural and the wines (in my opinion) are lighter bodied for higher versitility in food pairing, the wines will age much longer than the higher ph counterparts and they’ll be juicy. Real acid captured in the grape (not added in granular form at the crushpad) will make your mouth water.

  25. Randy

    I think people who blog and write without placing their name on their work are chumps. Isotope is a good example of why we need to eradicate the ability to hide behind one’s words. This person seems to be negatively engaging all who post yet remains hidden. I for one am tired of people hiding. The blog mediators might place the email in the text so we can know who we’re talking with, otherwise this blog thing is becoming a joke.

    REVEAL YOURSELF or sit on the sidelines.

  26. David Honig


    Your point about anonymous posting is certainly a valid one. However, we will not “out” an anonymous poster, in this case or any other. The reasons are simple. Some people post anonymously for the freedom it gives them to make fools of themselves. Such cases usually involve people overwhelmed with confidence in their own knowledge, the sort of people whose challenges to others grammar are filled with grammatical errors. But other people post anonymously because they have something to add, but some other part of their life, personal, professional, or both, might be threatened.

    In the instant case, Isotope has decided to post anonymously. We can judge him, or this version of him, by his own words, for good or ill. In this case, as in most, when somebody goes out of his way to be an ass, he destroys his own credibility, and his own argument, in the process. Usually, that is enough.

  27. Randy


    That’s fine, however blog mediators may find themselves on the business end of the legal stick when these “fools” decide to seriously hurt someone by writing things that may or may not be true. This may cause, as in the Mr Smith case, litigation and I know no one wants that. The fact is, if these people are feeling bravado and reach out and strike and those words are not immediately repudiated (and even removed) before damage is done, look out. People who do not have the shroud of secrecy may not decide to make a fool of themselves… Something to ponder.

  28. David Honig


    Fair point. I’ve pondered, no doubt I’ve pondered (https://palatepress.com/2010/09/wine-bloggers-and-the-law/). I believe I have a pretty good sense of where the line falls, though you are no doubt right, we must always keep it in mind.

    As for anonymity, we can demand people use their real names, emails, etc., but it is so easy to create a personna that it is effectively meaningless, until you go to IP addresses. I say, unless he’s reached the level of defamation, let him make his own impression.

  29. Tom Mansell

    When this piece was in the editing phase, I thought it might brew up some debate about filtering. I didn’t think it would pan out like this, though.

    Unfortunately, anonymous vitriol is almost always part of any worthwhile dialogue on the Internet.

    While Isotope’s unprovoked personal attacks are lamentable, some of his/her points are worth taking after filtering out (ha) the slung mud. Rather than re-post everything, I have created a post on the Palate Press Forum under “Wine Science” that addresses the validity of Isotope’s claims. Check it out here: https://palatepress.com/forum/wine-science/filtering-colloids-and-spoilage/

    The bottom line is that studies have found that filtering does affect polyphenol and color content of red wines. Winemakers must weigh the effect of microbial stability vs. that consideration when deciding to filter. Given the evidence, filtration should probably win every time.

    In the meantime, let’s keep comments on topic, said topic being Brettanomyces.

  30. mark bunter

    Brett is pretty easy to control. Get your wine dry, keep the SO2 above 35 ppm, no problem. Yes, it’s around. So is AIDS. You worried about AIDS? Clean up your act. Wine is a microbial stew. Get over it.

  31. Julia Burke

    I’m psyched that beer entered this discussion. I’ve often heard drinkers (of both beverages) say they consider Brett in wine a flaw – but Brett in beer is just fine. Joe, you’re one of them! Why does craft beer get a free pass?

    Though controlling Brett is certainly an issue with both, I personally believe that Brett, like many “flaws,” adds character and complexity to a wine OR beer in small amounts. I realize there are folks who like their wine clean, well-filtered and fault-free, but I tend to take the (rather romanticized, I realize) position that when the most I can say about a wine is that it’s “clean,” I’m bored to tears.

    South African wine hasn’t entered this discussion, and it should. South African wines are almost across-the-board dismissed by those who don’t drink them as “Bretty,” and yet they can vary from completely un-Bretty to Bordeaux-like or Rhone-like to over-the-top. An SA winemaker once lamented to me the double standard that allows Brett in French wines but dismisses it as a dealbreaker in South African wines. What say you, drinkers?

  32. Tom Mansell


    Beer might get a pass because it is lower in hydroxycinnamate precursors. Wine is loaded with phenolic compounds that Brett can easily convert into 4-EP and 4-EG. Beer is slightly more difficult. Phenolic off-flavor (Pof+) yeasts (Belgian yeasts) can help, since they create 4-vinylphenols, which can be reduced by unique Brett enzymes to 4-ethylphenols.

    So a beer that’s really Bretty may only be as stinky as a slightly Bretty wine. That’s just a hypothesis.

  33. Julia Burke

    Tom – that involves the topic of whether Brett is pleasing and palatable, and is a good point. But if Brett is a flaw, it’s a flaw in any amount, right? Isn’t that why you scientists are all about filtration? 🙂

  34. Tom Mansell

    Two points to make here:

    (1) The absence of fault is not the presence of greatness.
    (2) Consumers have widely variable tolerances for wine “flaws”. Volatile acidity, for example, can contribute to fruity aromas, but too much will lead to nail polish. I don’t think it’s fair to write off a wine completely because of such a flaw, but a trace of Brett in the bottle now could lead to much more Brett down the road. And that should be a consideration when thinking about aging a case of wine for a while.

    If the wine is Bretty before bottling and you sterile filter, it will still contain the 4-EP and 4-EG aroma compounds, but Brett will not multiply in the bottle. Thus, by blending with uncontaminated wine, a winemaker could theoretically obtain a “pleasant” amount of Brettanomyces aroma, without the danger of having it increase over time as the bottle ages. It’s risky business, though, and as was discussed above, leads to a New World/Old World style issue beyond the realm of microorganisms and molecules.

    Also, mark bunter: too soon!

  35. Jim Reed

    @Cato… Hilarious! I am beginning to wonder if the next time it rains if I need to be getting to my uncles ranch. Wet Horse Smell, never would have considered it!

  36. Don R

    Wine that smells like poo is bad. Brett makes wine smell like poo. Brett is bad. QED.

  37. Erika Szymanski

    Tom, I agree with your hypothesis about the different influence of Brett on beer versus wine being related to 4-EP and 4-EG precursors. 4-EP and 4-EG are both derived from (two different) hydroxycinnamic acids. Concentrations of these acids range in the hundreds of milligrams per liter, while average concentrations in beer are usually less than 1 miligram per liter. Huge difference!

    And Jim, if you’ve never smelled a wet horse, I’d definitely recommend making that trip to your uncles’ during the next storm.

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  39. 1winedude

    Hi all – since a recent post on 1WD on this same topic generated quite a bit of discussion and ultimately pointed back here, I’m going to clarify the comment I left earlier.

    **I do not actually believe that people who like bretty wines are insane.** I do, however, think there are lots of people who have been misguided by the wine industry into thinking that brett is normal, or is terroir, and that if they think the wine is stinky they must be “wrong” or just don’t “get” wine.

    If you don’t like the smell of it, then don’t let ANYONE talk you into paying $80 for it!

  40. David Honig

    Excellent point, Joe, and I’m glad you brought it back full circle. I was at a Southern Rhone tasting last year and there were some wines that were a little “characteristically” bretty, but some others that smelled like they use a donkey’s butt instead of oak or concrete, and the sales staff was pushing, pushing, pushing, those wines.

  41. Alana Gentry

    I was pointed to this article from a linkedin group and thank you for writing it and everyone’s input. I was part of a group doing a pre-tasting of wines to be included in a private wine club and I was the only writer, everyone else was a winemaker. The discussion of brett was way over my head but I wanted to understand it. I could taste & smell it in small amounts like they could but I didn’t understand what it was. One winemaker that I really respect, said, “I just don’t like Brett, that’s it.” This made me realize that it was a preference. After that I started to understand what it was and decided for my palate, I can deal with a small amount but too much brett is a major flaw. Again, I really appreciate all the discussion/info here.

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  44. jaffa

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  45. Spencer

    “If you’ve ever tried sour ale, you have an inkling of the flavors associated with Brett. One of those flavors, naturally, is sour”

    Brett is not really a souring microorganism. It can produce some tart flavors, but the sour beers get there sourness from bacteria such as pediococcus or lactobacillus, which produce lactic acid. Most of the time pediococcus is the main contributor here, as lactobacillus tends not to survive in a beer hopped to over 8 IBUs.