First published in 2006, Jamie Goode’s groundbreaking book The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass paired a science-heavy, data-driven approach with a wine lover’s curiosity and devotion. It was, presciently, the right text for the way we drink now – with both head and heart. In a new 2014 edition, Goode, a wine columnist for the U.K.’s Sunday Express who also maintains the serious blog wineanorak.com, updates the essential resource with the latest research, controversies, and trends. While the casual drinker might not care about trellises or carbonic maceration, The Science of Wine is full of accessible intel and fascinating details gathered from the far wine-making corners of the world – particularly when Goode talks about the endgame: our perception of what’s in the glass. He gave us some insight into the volatile future of wine.
In your view, what are some promising scientific developments for winemaking?
I don’t think there’s much future for genetic modification in wine, unless societal attitudes change a lot. I think precision viticulture [selectively managing vineyards according to data generated through tools like satellite imaging, yield monitors, GPS, and digital video] will become ever more important; by understanding the natural variation in vineyards, it’s possible to make better wines. I think IPM [integrated pest management, an agricultural system that aims to reduce inputs of herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides through intelligent use] is vital because the wine industry has to be sustainable, and this is a really important way to farm.
Your book seems to suggest that wine is in large part defined by the soil, and that there’s incomplete understanding of this science. How does soil science can advance our understanding of wine?
Soils matter. You can make good wines from average vineyards, but to make a great wine, you need good vineyards, and that includes the soils. We know that soils are important, but we don’t quite know for sure exactly how they are important. It seems that soils shouldn’t be too fertile, and they should have specific water holding properties such that they ration the water supply to the vine, and reduce it substantially just before the final stage of ripening. And the soil chemistry probably matters as well, but we don’t know the details yet.
You break down some issues surrounding natural corking: cork taint or “corked” wine, what you call “the dirty secret of the wine industry” – the fact that about 1 in 20 bottles of wine is ruined as soon as it’s bottled due to the presence of the chemical TCA in some corks. Where’s the science going?
Corks are variable because they are natural products. And sometimes they taint. But we can’t live without them for fine wines because we like the way wine ages when it is sealed with a cork. Alternative closures are a bit of a compromise, but they give consistency. In the future, I expect taint-free cork-based closures such as Diam [released commercially in 2005] to become more important. For inexpensive wines, screw caps and synthetic corks will be the answer.
You point out that wine criticism should be seen as describing a critic’s interaction with the wine, not as a description of the wine itself, and call for a “paradigm shift” in our understanding of its role. Is this a field that you see as changing or improving so that it can remain vital to our understanding of wine?
Wine needs words. It’s such a complicated topic that we need to discuss it, to bring it to life, to add interest. There’s more to perception than simply tastes and smells. The extra information – context – helps us make sense of the wine and how it tastes. My point about the critic’s interaction with the wine is an important one, because we bring a lot to the wine tasting experience. We should remain humble in the face of wine, and hopefully critics of the future will acknowledge this.