Academics & Research

Uncorking the Chemistry
of Wine

Professor Gene Losey brings scientific curiosity to the grape.

On approaching wine like a chemist: Chemists like to know how things work, and there’s a certain mystery to the art of wine. As a chemist, you’re trying to understand the experience of wine, even while you’re enjoying it. 

Wine’s mystery: You can only explain wine so far. At some point, enjoying wine becomes an aesthetic experience. When I drink a really good wine, I don’t say this wine is so good because of its chemistry. I just know it’s really good. 

Learning to love wine: I became interested in wine when I was in graduate school, as I was teaching myself to cook. There wasn’t the wine culture in those days that there is now. We had to drive into Chicago from Michigan to find decent wine. I remember making pilgrimages to the old Sam’s store on Division Street. 

Preferred varietal: Oregon pinot noir. 

Test-tube wine: As part of my class on the chemistry of wine, we made wine in the lab from Welch’s grape juice. The idea was to see the fermentation process at work. It definitely wasn’t something you’d want to drink. 

The last word: I want people to get away from the idea that wine is about drinking to get a buzz on. It’s like any other art form. We learn to make sensory evaluations, to detect the different components of a wine. It’s an aesthetic experience that you can enjoy, and a little knowledge doesn’t hurt.

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