About me

What I do now: Study for a PhD at the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago, New Zealand. My dissertation research considers how winemakers and growers negotiate the jungle of scientific research and information related to their work, how extensions and journals and other communicators could communicate research findings with winemakers and growers more effectively, and what wine science as an intensely and inescapably interdisciplinary field can teach us about communicating science — to professionals and to the public — better.

What I’ve done before: I’m a refugee from an MD/PhD program, deciding to avert a mid-life crisis before it began by leaving med school (with my Masters of Science in microbiology) for a different road. Notwithstanding my love of medicine, I realized somewhere along the way that the life I pictured for myself when I “grew up” didn’t have much to do with the lives of the clinician-scientists I saw twenty years ahead of me. I wanted to be improving the way science is communicated not generating data in a lab (or writing grants for my underlings to generate data). I made the excruciating decision to change fields. After some hunting and pecking — and a lot of flack — I found my way into an English department to study composition, rhetoric, and how we can do a better job of te

aching students (and scientists) to write science.

Now I’m something of a hybrid: half-scientist, half-humanist, some days reading about Zygosaccharomyces, some days about Foucault, some days about technical communication, and most days about a little of all three.

Where I hope to be: Shaping some kind of science communication program, be that with a company, a university, or a non-profit research agency. Doing some science writing, but also improving the structures through which scientific research makes it to people who can use it: other scientists, professionals, and the public.

Where I am: Dunedin, the second-largest city on New Zealand’s South Island,  the main metropolis in Otago, and still a pretty medium-sized town. A beautiful spot on the coast, and a few hours away from the Central Otago Pinot Noir-growing spots.

Find my departmental page at the University of Otago here.

Erikas hair

Contact me: erika.szymanski@wineoscope.com

11 thoughts on “About me

  1. In my recent lecture in Sensory Evaluation of Wine in the Dept. of Vit. & Winery Tech. at at Napa Valley College, I concentrated on Brett. Your recent blog on Brett is the reason I quote from my lecture…”These olfactory defects in wine are common. A study by Chatonnet, et al. in 1993 tested 100 commercial wines (mostly French) and found about 1/3 of all wines had volatile phenol concentrations above perception threshold.” Quite a bit of brett acceptance.

    • Thanks! Indeed, I wonder if Americans have a skewed vision of the microbial world in terms of Brett in wine and, more broadly, in terms of food and wine microbiology. Perhaps in America our “blandized” palates, unaccustomed to fermented flavors by years of highly sanitized and standardized processed foods, have become less tolerant to a little Brett in wine versus the palates of our European neighbors? Then again, I’ve seen enough people enjoy that unexpected bit of barnyard that just a little bit of technical understanding of where those flavors originate might be a doorway into greater appreciation of microbial flavors in general.
      How I wish that I could sit in on your lectures!

  2. Hello
    I partiicipated in a discussion a few months ago on CM and found it most enlightening. So when I recently was asked “if there is any correlation between lactic acid in wine and lactose intolerance alergies in people?” I thought of you. Is there chemical subtleties between Lactose, Lactic acid and Lactase that could cause adverse alergic physiological manifestations specific to wine consumption?
    Thanks

    • Thanks for the excellent question. The good news for lactose-intolerant wine lovers is that they have nothing to fear from lactic acid in wine (or pickles, or sauerkraut, ect.) Most people who react poorly to lactose suffer from an intolerance, not an allergy; allergies are immune reactions to specific molecular shapes (“epitopes”), while intolerances can be caused by non-immune reactions. Lactose intolerance results from a deficiency in the lactase enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose in the small intestine. Since we can only absorb lactose after it has been broken down into its component parts – glucose and galactose – a lactase deficiency means that undigested lactose builds up in the intestines and causes bloating, diarrhea, gas, and other discomforts.

      To the best of my knowledge, unlike lactose, lactic acid can be absorbed without first being broken down by lactase. Another pertinent consideration here is quantity: milk contains 2-8% lactose, i.e. relatively a whole lot, while wine contains much less than 1% lactic acid.

      In conclusion, then, the lactic acid in wine should be of no concern to most people who need to avoid lactose. A glass of wine makes a much better companion to a good dinner than a glass of milk, don’t you think?

  3. Pingback: Lovely whites from Santorini and why Minerality is like “I’m Good” | New World Winemaker Blog

  4. I know this is an old post, but I just saw it and have a comment.
    I think small amounts of brett are tolerated in USA consumers is because most don’t recognize it. Most are not aware of the different components tht make up a taste. No connection to agriculture, or to ag processes, how it can go off the rails, in a large way or a small way. I have been at trade tastings where I come upon a bottle, 2/3 empty, but full of TCA, and nobody said anything. Similar with brett, I am often the only person to hold up my hand and say, this has brett. USA consuming public loves wine. Most can’t tell what grape is what. Can’t tell if varietally correct, or even close. “All Bordeaux are Cabs.” “Gvrtz is pretty bland and always sweet.” “Blue Nun is Riesling.”

    We don’t do much serious side-by-side tasting. Even a lot of people who make wine, sell it, pour it, don’t know much that is scientifically correct. You don’t need to study anything to make wine, it is rather simple, and the ancients did it 8000 years ago. Long before Priestly or Pasteur or the Duke of Burgundy. And heaven forbid to identify regional specialties or character, where in a lineup of 10 wines, you might discover what brett is compared to its non-brett peers. So, a little brett, heck, the bottle is already empty.

    (I had the good fortune to study wine at Napa Valley College 4 years, and am especially attentive to the updates daily in N-P-K news, ripening process, effect of shade on clusters, and other stuff that most consumers think is of no concern.)

    • I see your point, Donn, but I disagree. Yes, absolutely, many American wine consumers (I’d generalize: probably most wine consumers anywhere) don’t recognize brett. But whether or not they recognize a specific flavor has nothing to do with whether or not they like a wine. So, I’d say, many American wine drinkers are tolerant of a little brett because they don’t find it offensive and, moreover, because no one has ever taught them that they’re not supposed to like that flavor. Their tolerance says more about the social constructedness of anti-brett feelings than anything else.

  5. Just came across your site looking for info on CM and found a whole interesting world.
    I started in the wine biz 40 yrs ago (selling) and have always favored European wines. I came to recognize brett for what it is in the “80s. We don’t find brett these days, mostly for the good of course. But, when I open old Bordeauxs, “HELLO OLD FRIEND”I miss brett.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Carignane. And you know, I’m inclined to agree with you about the Brett. For me, it’s a bit like 1990’s alternative rock. I’m glad to have forgotten most of it, but sometimes when it finds me I’m glad to remember.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *