This paper concerns research into the influence of salt (sodium chloride) on growth, viability and fermentation performance in a winemaking strain of the yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Experimental fermentations were conducted in both laboratory-scale and industrial-scale experiments. Preculturing yeasts in elevated levels of sodium chloride, or salt “preconditioning” led to improved fermentation performance. This was manifest by preconditioned yeasts having an improved capability to ferment high-sugar containing media with increased cell viability and with elevated levels of produced ethanol. Salt-preconditioning most likely influenced the stress-tolerance of yeasts by inducing the synthesis of key metabolites such as trehalose and glycerol. These compounds may act to improve cells’ ability to withstand osmostress and ethanol toxicity during fermentations of grape must. Industrial-scale trials using salt-preconditioned yeasts verified the benefit of this novel physiological cell engineering approach to practical winemaking fermentations.