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Wine science

Published:  18 January, 2007

Jamie Goode's Wine Science is an intriguing book, beautifully presented, full of interesting facts, but not easy to assimilate. On taking the first glance, one could be excused for shutting it fairly quickly, since it makes for tough reading, especially in the early chapters on the vine and viticulture. Goode has a PhD
in plant biology, and this is reflected in his writing. This is clearly not a book for the layman, since one has to cope with a string of difficult words and terms, such as mycorrhizae, gravitropism, propagules and morphological plasticity.

The design and layout of the text does not help either, paragraphs being set in different fonts and in different positions on the page, making it hard to know which part to read first. The pictures, all in monochrome, are disappointing, too, and several of them lose the point and are not easy to interpret.

One of the hurdles to be overcome is the very title of the book. Expectations come into play immediately, for there is another Wine Science written by Ron Jackson of Brock University, Ontario. That book has long been one of the standard reference tomes and is now in its second edition. And then there is the two-volume Handbook of Enology by Ribreau-Gayon et al, which also makes for good reference. Goode's book is not like either of these: it is a fascinating review of the current state of the science of winemaking as expressed not so much by Goode himself, but by a host of famous names from all corners of the industry.

The book is divided into three main sections: In the vineyard, In the winery and Our interaction with wine. These are subdivided into a total of 25 chapters covering many, but not all, of the various aspects of grape growing, wine production and tasting. Thumbing through these chapters, it becomes apparent that the author has tended to let his enthusiasm run wild on his favourite topics rather than give a balanced coverage to every aspect of the wine-growing and making process. There are complete chapters on specialist subjects such as GM vines, partial root drying and Brettanomyces, with 22 pages on closures and a sizable chapter on biodynamism. As Goode himself writes, Many readers will be surprised to see a chapter on biodynamism in a book on wine science.' This may be so, but it is a most useful and detailed expos of this curious practice.

On the other hand, hardly a mention is made of the various processes used to stabilise wine prior to bottling. No attempt is made to follow a complete path from grape to bottle, but the interesting topics are picked out and developed to considerable depth. The section on cultured or spontaneous fermentation, for example, states: The early stages of these fermentations

are typically dominated by Kloeckera, Hanseniaspora and Candida. As the alcohol levels rise a little, they bow out, and others such as Cryptococcus, Kluyveromyces, Metschinkowia, and Pichia step in and take their turn.'

The third section, Our interaction with wine, is disappointing in that it is very philosophical and does not give much practical advice in this difficult topic. It covers somewhat esoteric topics, such as Wine and the brain' and Extending life span', and gives the impression that this section was added as an afterthought in order to bring the book to a conclusion. A detailed explanation of the scientific basis for wine tasting would have been welcome at this point.

Once the purpose of the book has been unravelled, it makes for fascinating reading. Goode's style of writing is easy and well structured, and the constant quoting from authoritative and often contrary sources is a real catalyst to further investigation. The facts throughout the book are sound and accurate, with only two instances noted where the author has had a momentary lapse. On p.99, hyperoxidation has become hyper-oxygenation, an error that students are constantly reminded to avoid; and on p.109 the direction of flow of water across a semipermeable membrane has gone into reverse.

For anyone with a science background, or for students of the MW examination, this book is invaluable and fascinating. Although not easy to read from cover to cover, it is easy to dip into, despite its somewhat quirky modern layout. There

is a good glossary and an excellent bibliography that will lead the student into further research. There is no doubt that this book will remain within easy reach of my desk.