The Botanist and the Vintner – Christy Campbell

I think it’s fair to assume that at some point many of you have sipped a glass of wine, nodded your head solemnly, and murmured: “Mmm. Yes, that’s good.” Whether you’re under the watchful eye of an eager waiter or in hearing distance of someone you want to impress, the appearance of connoisseurship in this realm has an effect similar to a wave from the fairy godmother’s wand in Cinderella. Our twenty-third reader (a student of flavour chemistry and wine aromatics) is not only able to say, “Yes, that’s good,” but can also break down each perceptible taste, analyze the grape varietal, and list the aromatic and chemical compounds that urge the “Mmm” from your lips.

I sat down with our reader over Skype to discuss her connection to Christy Campbell’s The Botanist and the Vintner (2004), a work of non-fiction on the little-known history of an aphid infestation that nearly devastated all of France’s vineyards in the 1860s. He tracks the spread of the infestation as far as Australia, the political and social repercussions of this event, and consequential development of science that would forever alter the wine industry. I speak to our reader about her first reading of The Botanist and the Vintner in a wine tasting class, the development of her interest in the chemistry of wine, the intersection of tradition and modernity in oenology (the study of wine), “foxy” aromas in American grape stock, and how everyone is entitled to an opinion about a drink that’s been around for millennia. So grab a glass of your favourite grown-up grape juice and settle in for some seriously scientific wine talk. 


“I think that this book brings to light such an important event in the history of wine…Wine persists. It’s a product that has been around for so long and it was literally almost wiped out of the human experience. So if you are the kind of person who’s interested in where food comes from, this is such a pivotal point in the history of wine that I think is worth knowing, worth having that reference point, and understanding the ongoing differences in wines that you can get…Wine is mostly water. It’s an ethanol solution, and yet it’s so different, it’s so much more complex, it’s so much more important to us over all these years and in all these different contexts. And that’s why I think wine science and culture is so important.”

Currently reading:

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

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