Good Chemistry: How I Learned to Embrace the Science of Wine

Last Drop Jars of Soil samples

A few weeks ago, I derailed what could have been a simple transaction with a wine shop cashier by casually shifting the conversation to dirt. The salesperson, a fellow wine geek, and I chatted animatedly about the chemistry of viticultural soils before I finally ducked out so she could help other customers.

I wasn’t always this way. As a fairly lackluster student, high school science classes, especially chemistry, overwhelmed me. An impenetrable maze of complex acronyms and cloudy beakers, my 10th grade chem labs intimidated me to the point that I threw up my hands and declared that most petulant of high school decrees to anyone unlucky enough to be in earshot: “I’m never going to need to know any of this, anyway!”

Spoiler: My teenage self was incorrect. The longer I work in food and drinks, the deeper and more interested I get in science. When I was a cook and recipe developer, basic biochemistry helped me understand why certain dishes succeeded while others fell flat. Fast forward to today, and it’s impossible to think, talk and write about wine as much as I do without developing a weird fascination for flavor compounds, fermentation science and, as that likeminded salesperson recently learned, the chemical makeup of agricultural soils.

Wine provides a lens through which you can explore everything from history to geopolitics to culture to chemistry.

That might be what I appreciate most about wine. There are all sorts of ways in, and none more legitimate than the other. Plus, wine provides a lens through which you can explore everything from history to geopolitics to culture to chemistry. To me, that potential for connection to so many people, places and points of interest is thrilling. It gets me excited to open a new bottle, taste the next pour or talk to similarly enthusiastic strangers in wine shops, restaurants and beyond.

I’ll never know so much about wine that I can’t learn something new from the winemakers, vineyard workers, importers, collectors, or cashiers I’m lucky enough to meet. But I promise, next time I won’t hold up the line.

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

Published on May 15, 2022
Topics: Last Drop