Hawk & Horse Blog

People have been asking us about wild or “natural” yeast….here’s how we answer:

Over the years this subject is brought up and answered - and then, it resurfaces again. We have had many conversations with our consulting winemaker, Dick Peterson, and others on this topic. Here are some salient points I would like to share:

There's no such thing as man-made, or chemical, or foreign or non-biodynamic yeast.

Over hundreds of years, winemakers worldwide have carefully selected yeast strains from nature that always produce the best wine and always without spoilage. One could almost think of these strains as heirloom.

All the other strains in nature have failed to ferment smoothly all the way to completion without allowing wild bacteria to take over the fermentation and produce spoilage. This is why you will find an inordinate number of “natural yeast fermented” wines which have off flavors and spoilage.

The yeasts we use from stored reservoirs in yeast 'reproduction factories' are simply "selected natural yeast strains" that can be relied upon to work well for the purposes of optimum winemaking. Bear in mind that the wild yeasts which are floating around in the air at any given time are the natural yeasts that have been borne by whatever rotting fruit is nearby at the time. Yeast is a spore. It travels on the air. 

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Thus, if you have a winery and vineyard which is centered in a region of France or Napa which has been using propagated yeast strains for decades the “natural” yeasts in the air will be primarily the exact same strains the guys next door added to their must. However, if you are near a fruit orchard, near a land waste disposal or an effluent treatment facility, guess what? The “natural” yeast which populates your fermenting wine is the same yeast which is in that nearby rotting fruit, garbage or effluent! It is romantic to think of all things being “natural” in winemaking. Let’s just be clear about what that means.

One final point - when a Biodynamic or “organic” wine is “stuck” during fermentation, the addition of yeast is then permitted. So, in truth, a wine labeled Biodynamic Wine may have had yeast additions - after a stuck fermentation which can lead to the growth of spoilage bacteria and off flavors. The addition of some form of food for the added yeast - sugar - is also needed at that point to restart fermentation. Using a proven yeast strain from nature - right from the start - ensures a clean, unspoiled fermentation virtually every time without the need for additional manipulation.

If you’re interested in reading more, here’s a recent discussion:


1 cup basmati rice

2 cups water

1 medium shallot, diced

12 button mushrooms, chopped fine

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp olive oil

¼ cup chopped walnuts

Sea Star Sea Salt, pepper, nutmeg


Sautee shallots, mushrooms, and garlic until soft

Add salt, pepper and nutmeg

Add water and rice

Cover and bring to boil

Reduce heat, stir and cook covered until all water is absorbed

Sprinkle with walnuts

Fluff with a fork and serve hot or chilled


Serves four

On February 18, Mitch and Tracey had the honor of pouring our wine for ASHA (American Saddlebred Horse Association) at their Annual Gala and Youth Conference in Lexington KY as a benefit for youth scholarships. We also participated in their fundraising auction by donating a weekend at Hawk and Horse Vineyards - we look forward to welcoming the winning bidder! Thank you Kentucky - for your warm welcome, beautiful weather and endless hospitality! Please read about our adventures below:

Part One: Lexington Horse Park

As we approached the tarmac at the Bluegrass Airport in Lexington, I said to Mitch “Can we send for the dogs and horses? - I don’t think I’ll ever want to leave!” And this even before I stepped off the plane! The view from the air was of large southern estates, miles of horse pasture, classic colonial style mansions, homes and beautiful barns. We were also delighted with the airport - there is no cleaner or friendlier airport that I have ever been to than Bluegrass. People are kind, efficient and cordial. We had our rental car with absolute ease and were soon at the Griffin Gate Marriott - one of Lexington’s premier hotel resorts. We were very tired after traveling across the country with kids, bags and through time zones - we had to get up at “O-Dark-Thirty” as the kids like to say to begin this trek.

We were met at the doors of the Marriott with friendly, staff who delivered our bags to our room promptly. Check in was a breeze. Soon we were staring out picture windows at the rolling hills, estates and pastures of Lexington - just gorgeous. We went straight to the pool and hot-tub to unwind from the flight and then to bed for an early night in comfortable surroundings.

walkingNext day we began with a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park and the American Saddlebred Museum. Few things in life outstrip your expectations - yet it seemed that each thing we saw and experienced in Lexington resonated with Southern charm just off the charts! At the Saddlebred Museum we laughed our heads off interacting with the exhibits and learned about American Saddlebreds from their origins to present day. We could hardly pull the kids away. The exhibits were very thoughtfully planned out and were interactive so that the girls had fun while learning (Photo: Frankie and Nina at The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington).


The horse park was phenomenal. Acres of rolling hills, horse pastures, museums and a friendly eatery. We took a horse-drawn trolley tour of the grounds, saw horses of many breeds including a couple of famed retired race horses, and a collection of carriages(photo below).  (Photo right: Nina in the virtual show ring - American Saddlebred Museum).


We met resident horse professionals and regular working folks - each and every one as kind as the next. Here I’ll digress and share with you a little family humor from the Hawkins household. The girls sometimes refer jokingly to their dad as “the ‘Hi Guy’” because he is so friendly and out going. The people at the horse park were as exuberantly friendly as Mitch - so imagine our mirth when our own “Hi Guy” just fit right in!!!

For those of you who may not have heard of the Kentucky Horse Park - it is part living horse museum, part breed showplace, part equine event venue. They have a number of arenas - both indoor and outdoor, barns and displays, museums and thousands of acres of land. We spent an entire day and one half exploring and reveling in this truly one-of-a kind place. See their web site for more info: http://kyhorsepark.com/

 On February 18, Mitch and Tracey had the honor of pouring our wine for ASHA (American Saddlebred Horse Association) at their Annual Gala and Youth Conference in Lexington KY as a benefit for youth scholarships. We also participated in their fundraising auction by donating a weekend at Hawk and Horse Vineyards - we look forward to welcoming the winning bidder! Thank you Kentucky - for your warm welcome, beautiful weather and endless hospitality! Please read about our adventures below:

Part Two - those Southern Estates!

The next day we were guests at two of Lexington’s most renowned horse farms. First was Hillcroft Farm, owned and operated by Misdee Wrigley. Upon arriving, Misdee met the group in person and showed us into her beautiful barn and trophy room. She shared with us personal stories about her awards, her life and how she fell in love with KY and the very special property where she designed and developed her operation. This charming, creative woman was the embodiment of Sothern charm. One of the stories she told nearly brought me to tears: one of her earliest experiences with horses was a little black pony that she drove in front of a miniature stage coach as a child.carriage As happens to us all with precious play things of youth, this coach had settled in the fabric of memories for Misdee and she had not seen it since childhood. Just a few years ago, while looking through some advertisements she saw an ad for a miniature coach that reminded her of those early days. Misdee telephoned the seller and eventually bought that coach - the very same one she had driven as a child! This she displays in a special part of her barn along with a collection of carts, buggies and carriages ranging from a coveted 1910 Vanderbilt pony coach to the two very special carts Misdee inherited from her grandparents. (Read more about her purchase of the Vanderbilt coach here: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/11/19/1965974/auction-of-high-class-carriage.html

Misdee also introduced us to her champion American Saddlebred horses. Just beautiful! Learn more at: http://www.hillcroftfarm.net/about.html

Next we went to Clairborne Farm, famed for producing such notable racehorses as Secretariat, Sea Biscuit and Bold Ruler. We were given a walking tour of this historic facility including the breeding barn and the stalls where famous race horses - contemporary and historic - live and have lived. We were shown the resting sites of some of America’s most beloved racing mounts - Nasrullah, Bold Ruler, Secretariat (photo below) and more. 


We were introduced to two champion race horses - now standing stud: Blame and Arch. One begins to dream of blood lines and conformation - imagining what potential purchasers of the $60,000 - $500,000 stud fee are considering when they select a sire. (photo below: Arch)

black horse


Clairborne Farm boasts over 500 horses on site. They range from broodmares to stallions to potential racehorses of tomorrow. In the history of horse racing in the United States, there have been just nine winners of the coveted Triple Crown. Six of the nine winners have come from Clairborne Farm. The farm’s racehorse history goes back to Civil War cavalry veteran, Richard R. Hancock of Virginia’s Ellerslie Farm. It was Richard’s son, Arthur Hancock, who developed Clairborne Farm in Lexington. It is now 100 years old and still owned and operated by the Hancock family - Seth Hancock of the Secretariat movie fame. Trainers told us that Seth Hancock knows the name and blood lines of each of the over 500 horses currently on the farm! Inspiration and dedication like this remind us of the family-owned wineries and vineyards in our own California. That same hands-on dedication translates into our industry and proves that perfection is earned, not inherited.

Hawk and Horse Vineyards is sponsoring a visit by Katherine Cole, the author of Voodoo Vintners: Oregon ’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers.


Katherine will read from her book and sign copies on Friday, February 24 from 5:30 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. at Copperfield’s Bookstore in Calistoga. The event is free and there’s no need to RSVP. Mitch and Tracey Hawkins, will be on hand to discuss farming and to offer tastes of their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2006 Latigo. Copperfield’s is located at 1330 Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga. We hope to see you there!

Hawk and Horse Vineyards