Pinot Noir Malolactic Fermentation

Are you a fan of Pinot Noir? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s one of the most popular red wines in the world – over 3 million hectoliters are produced each year! But what does it take to create a truly great bottle? Well, one key factor is malolactic fermentation (MLF). In this article, we’ll explore what MLF is and how it can benefit Pinot Noir. We’ll also look at some factors that can affect the process and techniques for managing it. So let’s dive in and learn about this fascinating winemaking technique!

Overview of Pinot Noir

You can almost taste the velvety richness of this classic red wine just by hearing its name. Pinot Noir is a light-bodied, dry red wine that originated in Burgundy, France. It’s one of the most popular wines due to its complexity and nuanced flavors which range from earthy and spicy notes to brighter berry fruit flavors. Pinot Noirs have a high acidity, making them perfect for pairing with food since they don’t overpower delicate dishes. As an added bonus, Pinot Noirs tend to be more affordable than other red wines, yet still offer great quality and value. Moving on from the overview of Pinot Noir, let’s take look at the malolactic fermentation process that it undergoes.

The Malolactic Fermentation Process

Let’s talk about the Malolactic Fermentation Process, specifically in relation to Pinot Noir. Firstly, we can discuss the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid, which is achieved by bacteria and yeast during MLF. Next, let’s look at the types of bacteria and yeast used in this process – these determine the flavor profile of the final product.

Conversion of Malic Acid to Lactic Acid

Conversion of malic acid into lactic acid is a key process in winemaking – but why does it occur? Malolactic fermentation (MLF) is the biological conversion of malic acid, which gives wine its tartness, into softer lactic acid. MLF converts malic acid to lactic acid by the action of bacteria and yeast on the grape must. Bacteria such as Oenococcus oeni or Lactobacillus brevis are commonly used in winemaking for their ability to produce lactic acid from malic acid. Yeast strains such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae can also be used to convert malic acid to lactic acid during MLF. This conversion process helps soften tannins, balance out pH levels, and impart flavor complexity to wines made from Pinot Noir grapes.

Bacteria and Yeast Used in MLF

The bacteria and yeast used in MLF are key components of the conversion process from malic acid to lactic acid, allowing for the softening of tannins, adjustment of pH levels, and complexity in flavor profiles. The most common microorganisms used in MLF for pinot noir include species of Lactobacillus and Oenococcus. These organisms require particular environmental conditions like temperature, oxygen levels, and nutrients to thrive during fermentation. As MLF progresses, these microbes convert the malic acid into lactic acid, producing other compounds that can influence the taste profile of wine. This creates a greater depth of flavors which can further enhance the complexity and balance of pinot noir wines. With all this in mind, it’s clear why understanding the bacteria and yeast involved in MLF is so important; they play an integral role in creating nuanced wines with unique character. From here we can move onto looking at the benefits of MLF for pinot noir.

Benefits of MLF for Pinot Noir

You may be surprised to learn that MLF can provide up to 30% more complexity and nuance in your red wine! The process of MLF has a variety of benefits for Pinot Noir, such as:

  • Increased body and texture:
  • Enhances mouthfeel with better tannin integration, leading to increased viscosity.
  • Improves aromatics by creating new esters and glycerol compounds.
  • Improved flavor profile:
  • Softens bitter edges from tartaric acid.
  • Adds complexity with earthy flavors like truffles, mushrooms, and leather.
    But this is just the beginning – there are many other factors that affect MLF’s success when applied to Pinot Noir.

Factors that Affect MLF

Temperature, pH, and nutrients are all important factors that affect MLF. Temperature affects the rate of fermentation, with higher temperatures resulting in a quicker MLF process. The pH of the must also plays an important role since as it increases, it reduces the effectiveness of enzymes responsible for MLF. Nutrients such as nitrogen and magnesium are also necessary for microbial growth and production of lactic acid.


Warmer temperatures can speed up the MLF process, while cooler temps slow it down. Temperature is one of the most important factors to consider when making Pinot Noir with malolactic fermentation. Here are a few ways you can control temperature:

  • Store and ferment your wine in temperature-controlled environments
  • Monitor and adjust fermentation temperatures as needed
  • Utilize cold stabilization techniques if necessary
  • Use cooling equipment to help maintain the desired temperature range
    Temperature plays an important role in ensuring that your Pinot Noir ferments correctly and develops its full potential. The next step is to understand how pH affects the MLF process.


Understanding how pH affects the process of converting malic acid to lactic acid is key to creating a delicious wine. The lower the pH, the more acidic it is, and this creates an environment where malolactic fermentation can occur. A higher pH will slow down or pause the process, while a very low pH may prevent it from happening at all. In general, Pinot Noir wines should have a pH between 3.3 and 3.8 for optimal malolactic fermentation results. If the initial wine has too high of a pH, then winemakers often add tartaric acid or citric acid to help lower it before beginning the malolactic fermentation process.

The availability of certain nutrients also plays an important role in malolactic fermentation success for Pinot Noir wines. Nutrients such as nitrogen and magnesium are required by bacteria in order to complete this conversion successfully; if these are lacking in the initial must then they must be added before starting the process or else there may be issues with sluggishness or incomplete conversions later on down the line.


Now that you have a better understanding of pH and its important role in malolactic fermentation (MLF), let’s look at the nutrients necessary for successful MLF. Nutrients are required to help the bacteria have an optimal environment to grow, produce metabolites, and complete the MLF process. The main nutrients that are necessary for MLF include:

  • Nitrogen sources such as ammonium salts or proteins
  • Vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, and pantothenic acid
  • Minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, calcium ion concentrations
  • Carbohydrates such as glucose or maltose
  • Trace elements like copper and iron
    By providing these essential nutrients to Pinot Noir during MLF, it will ensure a healthy bacterial growth rate which can improve flavor complexity and aromatics. This sets the stage for techniques used to manage this process.

Techniques for Managing MLF

Managing MLF can be like steering a boat – you’ll need to adjust your techniques depending on the current conditions. To keep your Pinot Noir under control, there are a few key techniques you can use. First, be sure to test for malic acid levels regularly during fermentation and identify any potential problems with the process. Second, maintain good temperature control throughout the entire winemaking process by keeping temperatures cool but not too cold. Finally, ensure that the yeast strain used is suited for malolactic fermentation and that it has enough nutrients available to complete it properly. These three steps will help ensure a successful MLF in your Pinot Noir and can make all the difference between a great bottle of wine and one that doesn’t live up to expectations.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for malolactic fermentation to complete?

Malolactic fermentation generally takes anywhere from 4-10 weeks to complete. It is a process that typically occurs after alcoholic fermentation, and involves the conversion of malic acid into lactic acid by bacteria which results in softer, rounder flavors in the wine. Factors such as temperature and pH can affect the length of time it takes for this process to occur.

What is the ideal temperature for malolactic fermentation?

You may be wondering what the ideal temperature is for malolactic fermentation. Well, it depends on the specific type of wine being produced, but in general a good rule of thumb is to aim for between 16-20°C (60-68°F). For example, a winemaker aiming to create a pinot noir with more structure and weight might choose to ferment at the higher end of that range. On the other hand, if they’re looking for more delicate flavors and aromas then they’ll likely want to go for something closer to 16°C (60°F).

What is the best way to prevent spoilage organisms during malolactic fermentation?

When it comes to preventing spoilage organisms during malolactic fermentation, the best way is to ensure that strict hygiene protocols are followed. This includes sanitizing all equipment and vessels used in the fermentation process, as well as monitoring temperatures closely. Additionally, using a high-quality yeast strain specifically designed for malolactic fermentation can help inhibit spoilage bacteria and ensure a successful fermentation.

How much malic acid is removed during malolactic fermentation?

Malolactic fermentation is an important process for many wines, as it can significantly reduce the levels of malic acid in the liquid. On average, this process removes around 30% of the malic acid from a wine. For Pinot Noir specifically, this can create a softer and rounder flavor profile on the palate.

Is malolactic fermentation necessary for Pinot Noir?

Malolactic fermentation is a process that can be used to change the flavor of wine and make it smoother. While not all wines need this process, it can be beneficial for certain varieties, such as Pinot Noir. The fermentation helps remove harsh flavors from the wine and give it more depth and complexity. Additionally, malolactic fermentation changes the acidity levels in wine, making it easier to drink. If you’re looking to create a smooth and balanced Pinot Noir, then malolactic fermentation might be necessary for your desired outcome.


You now know how the malolactic fermentation process works and the benefits it brings to a pinot noir. You’ve also seen some of the factors that affect MLF and techniques for managing it. As a winemaker, you can use this information to craft a great pinot noir vintage. In fact, studies have shown that using MLF in pinot noir can reduce acidity by an average of 0.5% while increasing body and intensity of flavors by up to 20%. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to making award-winning wines every season!

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