Winter Quarter: enology focus

Last year, as much as we worked in the cellar and had instruction about wine making, this is the year we truly focus on the details of enology as opposed to viticulture.  I have a wine chemistry class as well as a wine sensory class, among others, totaling 17 credits; it seemed prudent to not overload myself after my experience getting through last winter’s 24 credits.  The two classes mentioned are the primary reasons we chose to move to Walla Walla for me to come to school!  If this were a novel, it would be the climax of the story, everything will begin to come together so that in June, when I graduate, the novel would come to a satisfying close… but leaving room for the next book in the series to follow hard on its heals.

Probably the best part of this year is that I am not sitting in the chairs in the classrooms!  I have a standing desk to use in each room; the chem lab doesn’t even have chairs, so that was never a problem.  Last year, sitting in the classroom most of the day took quite a toll on my body as the chairs are not designed for support or comfort.  This is great as I can focus better on what is being presented rather than on my discomfort through lecture.

Wine chemistry in our classroom has been just like wine chemistry during harvest.
Wine chemistry in our classroom has been just like wine chemistry during harvest.

Wine chemistry, two mornings are lecture and two are lab, all are related to various aspects of what make up grapes/wine and how to avoid faults that can derail efforts to make successful products.  So far we have completed two labs that took us through measurements of density and acids.  Not surprisingly, much of what I did during my internship to test samples of grapes was what we did in these early labs.

Wine Sensory class - from a wine makers point of view - begins with water amended with acid, sugar and quinine (bitter).
Wine Sensory class – from a wine makers point of view – begins with water amended with acid, sugar and quinine (bitter).

The wine sensory class is on Friday, late morning.  Our initial class was primarily tasting water that had been mixed with varying levels of compounds found in grapes: sugar, acid and tannins (bitters) before moving onto wine mixed with each of the same compounds.  We were all able to differentiate the levels of each compound in the water – although I had to find the control, plain water, to go back through to taste the acid and bitter series as each was so intense that even a small amount masked my ability to determine which had the most vs the least of compound added.  Once onto the white wines mixed with each compound the complexity of the fruit removed the exaggerated effect of the additions and sometimes it was more challenging to discern least to most values.  I am quite sensitive to quinine, regardless of the mix with water or fruit.  That was terrible, nearly traumatic; the faces being pulled by all in the room silently confirmed that we could all taste it.  The acids were not quite as bad, but they still packed-a-punch.  As you can imagine, we were all happy to try the sugar mixtures.  The various amounts weren’t going to drive me to my knees (I was standing after all) or make me tear up with their intensity, but I can’t speak for my peers.

We wrapped up the class with faulty wines, microbial issues, imbalances, etc., which was quite interesting despite the impact some of them had.  There were a couple I couldn’t even taste as the nose was so strong.  By the end of the class I think my taste buds were over taxed.  I was hungry for lunch so it couldn’t have been too awful.


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