On Palate Press: Old wine research we’re still trying to finish

My piece for Palate Press this month asks what California (proto-Davis) wine researchers were doing in the era before mass spectrophotometers and DNA sequencers and even automated pH meters and all the other fancy stuff wine scientists consider essential today. The short story is that they were trying to figure out what grows best where, and how, which is fundamentally what we’re still trying to do. The long story is on Palate Press.

The long story didn’t have space for me to really geek out over the fun of reading old research articles. I think it’s fair to say that science writing — of the by scientists, for scientists variety — wasn’t as dry then as it is now, not just because antiquated language is quaint but because the distance between normal-talk and science-talk was shorter then than it is now. It’s pretty accessible and often entertaining. There’s the simple, voyeuristic pleasure of being astonished at just how backward they sometimes were, and sometimes at realizing that they weren’t as backward as we tend to assume. And then there’s the higher-order pleasure of making stories by connecting what they were doing to what we’re doing and finding new meaning in both the historical and the modern.

But reading about someone else geeking out over light archival wine reading isn’t near as fun as doing it yourself, and the archives of Hilgardia: a Journal of Agricultural Science from the University of California, including much about wine, are freely available via the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Respository. When so much is pay-walled and protected, free access to land grant university resources — not just for subscribers, not just for local winemakers, and not just for the taxpayers of California or even the United States — seems increasingly meaningful, and a good reminder of this massive, excellent, egalitarian knowledge-sharing project we practice through land-grant universities and agricultural extensions. I won’t ask you to excuse my unfashionable patriotism.

2 thoughts on “On Palate Press: Old wine research we’re still trying to finish

    • Um, aphorisms are the last refuge of the lazy-minded? (not that you, or Mark Twain, was lazy-minded, which is why that’s merely one bad aphorism for another bad aphorism. Patriotism is a mental short-cut that let’s us judge things as good or bad by judging first and more simply whether they’re part of our national culture or not. That kind of patriotism is terrible. But if I can redefine patriotism as appreciation of something unique to your national culture that works particularly well, or that you like for whatever thoughtful reason, then patriotism seems very good indeed. We shouldn’t either glorify or demonize anything on the basis of its nationality, but I think that gives us the freedom to appreciate when and where we’re part of a culture doing a good thing.

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