Does an increased scientific understanding of wine kill the magic?
This is a question I find myself asking with increasing frequency. If our progress in wine science means we can deconstruct the flavour of wine, and then link this back to viticulture and winemaking, would this take away some of the fun?
In my former work life I remember attending a scientific meeting on empathy. Gathered in a small room were some of the leading researchers who’d studied this particular human trait, and they spent three days discussing it.
My concern? If our enhanced understanding of this (or any) human attribute progresses too far, it can take some of the meaning out of life. Indeed, one of the scientists at the meeting made this point: there’s a danger that much that is valuable, significant and even spiritual in our relationships is spoiled by peering at it too closely through a scientific lens.
I want to believe that the reciprocal care and affection shared among my friends and family is through choice, spurred on by love. It doesn’t help me to have this explained in terms of a wiring for empathy that results from evolution. If my behaviour is explained merely in terms of genes and chemicals and electrical wiring in my brain, this sort of understanding can rob my life of meaning.
I love science. I love wine science. I strive for an increased understanding of how terroir works, for example. And I’d love it if science could help more interesting wine to be made more cheaply, so more people could have access to it. And being an impatient sort, I’d like to see the timescale for identifying great sites and then making great wine from these new vineyards reduced a bit from the current 30 or 40 years it usually takes.
But ultimately there is a magic to wine. It’s about agency. Wine is not made by people. People are, of course, vital partners in the process, but great wine is made by the site, the vines and the fermentative microbes (yeast and bacteria). It is a gift from nature. It would be awful to spoil this by knowing too much.