There are very few areas in life where science and art intersect. The two things seem to be diametrically opposed to one another. Philosophers have fought intellectual battles about which mode of thinking is more central to the human experience. Regardless of whether or not one paradigm is preferable to the other, wine is one area where the two sides are inextricably married to one another to form a unified perfection.
Winemaking has always had romance on its side. The image of the winemaker with the sexy accent diligently tending the vineyard and taking the fruit of his labor to create exquisite wines that evoke the place where the grapes were grown has been ingrained in us through the centuries. The passion of the artisan producing his or her labor of love is something that is easy for us to grasp onto, and it is a part of the story that we want to believe wholeheartedly. We want to believe in the family owned winery that has been passed down through the generations and has been tended with the most extreme care. The image is so strong that it has even carried through into science fiction, with Captain Picard going back to the family vineyard in France when he visits earth. This image is something that we want to hold onto, and there is certainly an element of truth in this picture, but it is not the whole truth.
In a sense, making wine has always been about chemistry. That doesn’t mean that winemakers have always been expert chemists, but the process of making wine is all about chemical reactions. The complexities of these reactions may not have always been fully understood on the level that modern winemakers understand them, but the process of taking fruit and transforming sugar into alcohol is very much a scientific exercise.
As our world has changed, the degree to which winemakers are actually chemists has become more pronounced. Wines are manipulated today on a chemical level that the winemakers of the past would have never dreamed. Some of this change in the landscape is decidedly for the better, while other aspects are more debatable. Wineries today will always feature a lab, where various tests are conducted on the wine to determine what steps need to be made to give the wine the character that they desire, and to ensure that the quality of the wine is up to the winemaker’s standards. As the level of science in the wine world has increased, so has the overall quality of wine around the world. There are downsides as well, but it is hard to argue that the act of making wine has not benefited from modern science and technology.
I have never really been the most practical of people, and my imagination gravitates towards the romantic rather than the scientific. That romantic ideal of the winemaker speaks to my soul in a way that SO2 additions never could. As I have learned more about the wine world, I have started to really appreciate the beauty that is created by the synergy between art and science. The dichotomy between art and science in winemaking is a false one. The science is the art, and the art is science. The act of making wine tells a story, a story that contains many different facets. From the soil where the grapes are grown, to the struggle of the vines to produce fruit, and finally to the process that the winemaker goes through to craft a final product that they can be proud of; every element of the journey is present in the bottle that you drink with your friends and family, and we become a part of that same story.
Regardless of how you feel about the degree to which winemaking has become a science, the simple fact is that without science there would be no wine. Strip away the scientific side of the equation and you are left with a guy in a beret playing with his grapes. I love the fact that winemakers are the unique mix between science and art. They are artisans and they are scholars, and thanks to their ability to meld the right brain and the left, we are able to enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures.