Epistemology and Enology. Wine Industry.

A philosophical reflection on how we gain and use knowledge in the wine industry

However it does not mean there is nothing real or true about our surroundings, or in this case about viticulture and enology.

Again Tarnas: since evidence can be adduced and interpreted to corroborate a virtually limitless array of world views, the human challenge is to engage that worldview or set of perspectives which brings forth the most valuable, life [or wine]-enhancing consequences. Because the fact is we do know quite a bit and we know it certainly, not contextually. We know that the berry accumulates sugar after veraison. We know that anthocyanins make grapes purple. We know that yeast (in grape juice) – independent of context (wood vs. steel vessel) – ferment sugar to produce alcohol. I know this seems silly and simple, but reminding ourselves of these basic answers places what we do not know inwell, context.

Will certain things remain mysterious? I hope so, the intuition required when dealing with such mystery is one thing that makes winemaking artisanal and great. However I believe we must allow what we observe in our context to loudly communicate with (not against!) more objective forms of gaining knowledge so that together advancement may be made and quality improved across the board. What I’d like to see is thoughtful individuals engage the task of evolving a flexible [where necessary, e.g. knowledge of terroir] set of premises and perspectives that would not reduce or suppress the complexity and multiplicity of human [or cellar, vineyard] realities, yet could also serve to mediate, integrate, and clarify. Additionally, I think I simply need to accept the fact that sometimes you just have to do things because you believe it is true, not because you know certainly. It makes for more lively discussion anyway.

30 years ago Amerine and Joslyn wrote “it is clear that we should soon have a complete picture of the chemical components of wines which influence their color, taste, odor, and quality.

It is not yet clear how we can correlate this vast amount of information with the actual color, taste, and other characteristics of wines as perceived by the consumer. This is surely one goal of enologists for the last third of the 20th century (M.A. Amerine and M.A. Joslyn, Table Wines). We do not have a complete picture yet, but it is less murky than it was 30 years ago. However mystery will remain for a long time regarding correlating that vast amount of information with ACTUAL components of quality AS PERCEIVED by the consumer. This creates risk for continued contextualization of wine knowledge, but hopefully all can work together to find a framework that continues to improve quality and production of wine.


I should note that the consumer (with the exception of the final paragraph) was entirely left out of the discussion. The reason is mainly a space/time question. I think the consumer is largely informed by marketing and by individuals in the industry who -as I already noted – are prone to communicate beliefs about winemaking more than knowledge of winemaking (unintentionally confusing the two).