Chapter overviews

Open fermenters at Maladinha Nova in Portugal's Alentejo

Introduction: Why wine science?
An exploration of the way the scientific world functions; discussing why science is useful; looking at the sorts of questions that science can address; the rise of antiscience; and why this book isn't a guide to technological winemaking.

Section 1: in the vineyard

1. Grape vine physiology
How the grape vine functions; how this relates to wine quality

2. Terroir: how do soils and climate shape wines?
Terroir is emerging as the unifying theory of fine wine. But there's still a lot of controversy surrounding it. What do we mean by 'terroir'? How does it work? What do winemakers think about it? What about terroir in the new world?

3. Precision viticulture: using aerial and satellite monitoring to target interventions
PV is a hot topic in the world of wine. The idea is, if you can understand heterogeneity (the differences between different bits) in your vineyard, you can manage it more effectively by targeting treatments and interventions just where they are needed.

4. Global climate change and its implications for viticulture
This chapter doesn't need much explanation: the world is getting hotter, it seems, and humans may be responsible. What are the consequences likely to be for the world of wine? This chapter looks at the data addressing this highly pertinent topic.

5. Genetically modified grape vines
Hugely controversial: scientists are busy working on genetically modifying grapevines in the hope that the public antipathy towards this technology will die down. It's a complex subject, and not as clear-cut as many are suggesting. On the one hand, fungus-resistant GM vines would alleviate the need for much of the spraying that takes place currently. On the other hand, the emergence of a handful of GM varieties would threaten the diversity of wine we currently enjoy.

6. Lutte raisonée and integrated pest management (IPM)
The elegant science of IPM, which aims to precisely target vineyard treatments and interventions on the basis of knowledge, offers a third way between industrial viticulture and organics/biodynamics. It's taking off, and is being implemented enthusiastically by vignerons worldwide.

7. Biodynamic viticulture
Currently a hot topic: the ranks of biodynamic vignerons continue to swell. It seems to work, but how? This is the question that fascinates scientists.

8. Phylloxera: how science saved wine
A look back at the chilling plague that threatened to wipe out wine globally, which was unleashed some 150 years ago. Its legacy remains with us today in that almost all vines are grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstocks.

9. Partial root zone drying and regulated deficit irrigation
More elegant science at work: if you turn off the water at just the right time, you can emulate the physical properties of some very famous terroirs, and improve wine quality while at the same time conserving water.

10. Trellising systems and canopy management
Have you ever wondered why vineyards look the way they do? Read this chapter to find out.

Section 2: in the winery

11. Barrels and the impact of oak on the flavour of wine
We don't talk about them all that much, but barrels are crucial to wine quality (when they are used). As well as imparting flavour directly, they allow controlled exposure to small amounts of oxygen. Scientists are now beginning to quantify the effects of barrels and their alternatives on wine.

12. Micro-oxygenation
A really interesting and fairly controversial technique that involves deliberately exposing wine to small amounts of oxygen. Who's using it? Why? And what are its effects?

13. Naturalness in wines: how much manipulation is acceptable
It's possible to make wine without adding anything at all - but virtually no one does. The long list of potential additions to wine make some people rather sceptical that there can be such a thing as 'natural' wine, while others argue that this is an important concept. Who's right?

14. Yeasts and wild yeast fermentations
Yeasts are crucial to wine quality, but they aren't discussed much. Is it better to use native or wild yeasts for fermentation, or are best results obtained by using cultured yeasts? Is this distinction even useful? I also take a look at malolactic fermentation and the potential for engineered yeasts to achieve various winemaking objectives.

15. Brettanomyces
Another controversial subject. The spoilage yeast brettanomyces is more widespread than you'd think, and a current topic of heated discussion is whether a bit of brett can ever be a good thing. I also look at the effects of brett on wine quality and how it can best be controlled.

16. Reverse osmosis, spinning cones and evaporators: alcohol reduction and must concentration
I can't seem to stay away from these controversial topics. Here I look at technologies for reducing alcohol levels, souping wines up and getting rid of volatile acidity.

17. Sulphur dioxide in winemaking
Sulphur dioxide is a crucial tool for winemakers to protect their wines from the effects of oxidation and unwanted microbial growth. It's almost universally used. But at high levels it causes problems. Here I look at ways that winemakers can best use this chemical guardian of wine quality, and at attempts to make wine without it altogether.

18. Reduction: volatile sulphur compounds in wine  
Hot topic alert. Reduction refers to the sensory effects of sulphur-containing compounds which are present in wine. Reduction is usually a fault, but current thinking on the topic is that winemakers can harness a low level of reduction as a way of gaining complexity. Could it also be that reduction is sometimes confused with terroir?

19. Closures: the cork taint debate
Cork, a wonderful natural substance ideally suited to sealing wine bottles with, is flawed. What are the alternatives? Do they work as well? This is currently a subject that's the source of a bitter feud in the world of wine. I choose to focus on the data here, not the rhetoric.

Section 3: our interaction with wine

20. Flavour and its perception
It's strange that a subject so central to wine (we drink the stuff...that's what it is for) has received relatively little attention by the trade. This wide-ranging chapter looks at the perception of wine and potential inter-individual differences.

21. Wine and the brain
Continuing from the previous chapter, here I take a look at how the brain processes flavour. Some interesting recent data on this fascinating topic are discussed.

22. Wine flavour chemistry  
Why does wine taste the way it does? A tour of the different chemical entities that make up this wonderful liquid.

23. Wine and health: is it good for you?  
This was a complicated chapter to write. There are lots of studies out there on the potential health benefits of wine, but any reading of this literature has to be done critically. Some studies claim to show things they don't, and there's the problem of confounding to take into account.

24. Extending lifespan by drinking wine?
This chapter discusses the intriguing suggestion that wine could be affecting mechanisms of ageing in a positive way. It's an engrossing story, but one that is far from settled. A good case study of how science works.

25. Wine ‘allergies’
Another complicated chapter. People frequently report adverse reactions to wine, but it's difficult to know what in the wine they are reacting to. 

Concluding remarks

Bibliography: further reading

Subject index

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