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Highlights from WSET Wine Education Week

The SOMM Journal’s Global Wine Editor, Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET
(’09), recently hosted three professional mixers marking the 50th anniversary of the London-based Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET).

Parker Wong teamed up with three Sonoma wineries—Balletto
, Sangiacomo Wines, and McEvoy Ranch—in welcoming WSET
alumni and students as well as members of the trade to taste and network
during Wine Education Week, held September 9–15. Three lucky attendees were awarded access to a Level 2 online certification course.

The world’s largest wine educator, WSET has more than 700 approved
program providers that deliver its wine, spirits, and saké certification programs in 70 countries and 15 languages.

Parker Wong offers both instructor-led and online Level 2 and Level 3 certification courses and specializes in bringing WSET training to winery staff on site.

Raffle winner Suzanne Martin with winegrower and vintner Steve Sangiacomo and Meghan Delzell, Director of Sales and Hospitality for Sangiacomo Wines. The Sangiacomo family celebrates 50 years of winegrowing this year.
Raffle winner Regina Baker (left) accepts her Level 2 study pack from McEvoy Ranch Event Manager Shannon Frances, who earned her Level 2 certification this year.
Pictured from left to right at Balletto Vineyards are vintner Jacqueline Balletto and winemaker Anthony Beckman with raffle winner Julie Pedroncelli St. John, herself a third-generation vintner.

Falling hard for Petrichor

Even knowing full well that geological minerals (with the exception of
halite, aka sodium chloride) have no smell, we’ve inherited a liking for the smell of petrichor from our ancestors, who relied on rain for their day-to-day survival.

The term, derived from the Greek words petra (stone) and ichor (the blood
of the gods), was coined by researchers Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Thomas in their 1964 paper “Nature of Argillaceous Odour” to describe the scent of rain.

At the time, the source of this particular smell was still unknown to scientists, but it had already been successfully captured in sandalwood oil by an Indian perfumer who called it matti ka attar, or “earth perfume.”

Bear and Thomas, who were working in the Division of Mineral Chemistry at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), mimicked the humid conditions experienced prior to a rainstorm by steam-distilling rocks that had been exposed to warm,
dry conditions.

The experiment produced an aromatic, yellowish oil that shared the same distinctive smell, which the researchers promptly named petrichor—the blood of the stone.

Petrichor is a combination of several fragrant chemical compounds, and while some have yet to be identified, one is 2-isopropyl-3-methoxy-pyrazine (IPMP). Also found in Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, it has a very “rain-like”smell.

Beyond plant oils, the primary contributors to petrichor’s complex aromatics are actinobacteria, a genus of soil-dwelling bacteria. Actinobacteria decompose dead and decaying organic matter into simple chemical compounds, and a byproduct of that activity is the organic
compound geosmin.

When the air becomes more humid and moistens the ground prior to a rainstorm, actinobacteria speed up their activity and produce more geosmin, which is the dominant aromatic compound in petrichor. Also found in beets, it can be considered a flaw or fault when readily apparent in wine and has a very low threshold for human detection
at 5 parts per trillion.

It wasn’t until 2010 that the “petrichor process” was documented on slow motion video by a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Using high speed cameras, they witnessed how tiny air bubbles are created when a raindrop hits a porous surface; the bubbles shoot upwards, bursting from the drop in a cloud of aerosols that carry volatile aromas (and even bacteria and viruses) found on rocks and soils that are then spread by the wind.

Another compound associated with the smell of rain is ozone, created when lightning or ultraviolet light in the atmosphere splits oxygen molecules that then reform to create trioxygen.

The average human nose can pick out the distinctive smell of ozone—often described as the “clean” smell after a rainstorm—at a concentration
as little as 10 parts per billion; due to this higher detection threshold, ozone can be masked when geosmin is present.

In a subsequent paper, “The Genesis of Petrichor,” Bear and Thomas elaborated on the process by which rocks, clay, and soil absorb organic compounds. Silica absorbs more atmospheric contaminants—compounds
like lipids, terpenes, carotenoids, and other volatile decomposition products— when humidity is low. Those compounds are increasingly oxidized and transformed when it’s hot, and their volatile aroma compounds combine to produce petrichor when humidity increases before and during a rainstorm.

All of the organisms and compounds that have been identified in petrichor can be found in any given vineyard, and as a result, many can also be found in grapes and wine—for better or for worse. But regardless of the result, our appreciation of that unique scent known as earth’s perfume is seemingly innate.

Wine 123: Causation and Detection of Wine Defects Offered at Santa Rosa JC

I’ll be teaching Wine 123: Causation and Detection of Wine Defects at Santa Rosa JC next semester (Spring 2020). Check out our video courtesy of the Distance Learning department’s Emily Hansen –

Fast horses and slow whiskey

It’s not common knowledge that rye whiskey production originated in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where it reached its zenith in the late 19th century. Historically, each state produced a different style: Pennsylvania rye was spicy and bold, while Maryland rye traditionally presented more well balanced flavors.

After Prohibition, rye whiskey almost disappeared altogether. The production of a few surviving brands moved to Kentucky, where an early 2000s revival largely favored the Pennsylvania style. But in 2013, trading on Maryland’s distinct rye pedigree, Sagamore Spirit launched a renaissance of its own.

The name Sagamore—and the brand’s three-diamond emblem—pay homage to Sagamore Farm, an active thoroughbred-racing and -training facility in northern Baltimore County once owned by the Vanderbilt family. The team uses spring-fed water from the farm’s Spring House to proof every bottle of Sagamore at their waterfront distillery in Baltimore’s Port Covington neighborhood.

Corn plays a supporting role to rye in the Maryland-style mash bill. According to company president Brian Treacy, Sagamore relies on two mash bills: One is “high rye,” while the other is “low rye,” a rye-dominant blend that includes corn. The whiskeys are aged separately, blended, and brought to proof with the aforementioned spring water.

Read the article here –

Lyre’s alcohol alternatives take a seat at the bar

Imitation is called the sincerest form of flattery; in the case of Sydney, Australia-based company Lyre’s, which makes a range of alcohol alternative products that mimic classic spirits, it’s an artful homage.

After three years of obsessive research and development by founder
and CEO Mark Livings, Lyre’s will make its debut in California, where—
under the guidance of Global Brand Ambassador Jeremy Shipley—it’s
bound to find a receptive audience. Shipley and Christian Butler, Lyre’s VP
of North America, brought the portfolio to San Francisco for a tasting and to
shed some light on the ingredients behind these doppelgänger spirits.

“The team at Lyre’s collaborated with Australian sommelier David Murphy
to craft and refine the 12 flavor profiles that make up the portfolio,” said Butler, who describes Murphy as their “flavor architect.” Livings and Murphy’s recipes are based on all-natural, botanical essences, extracts, and distillates sourced from all corners of the globe, particularly Germany.

Read the article here –

Thinking in Smell

Exploring the cultural appreciation of scent.

In his 1966 book The Hidden Dimension, anthropologist E.T. Hall states that when it comes to olfaction, Americans are culturally underdeveloped. He attributed this deficiency to the extensive use of deodorants and the suppression of odor in public places, a cultural norm that has resulted in a land of olfactory blandness.

This neutrality – brought about by the suppression of and aversion to odor – exists in other first world countries as well where it is described by the Bororo people of Brazil and the Serer Ndut of Senegal among others as “the smell of death.” 

Because odors have been repressed, they’ve never been coded by our culture; there’s no model in place to organize our olfactory life experience and, as such, our response to smells is measured in terms of relative pleasure. Simply put, we only react to odor. By contrast, cultures that attach symbolic meaning to odors like the Suya people of Brazil and the Onge of the Andaman Islands are said to think in smell.

Of the five senses, smell in Western culture has gotten a bad rap. In the English language there are fewer positive equivalents for the sense of smell than there are for the other four senses.  You might sniff out a deal or smell a rat but the terms for nose in our vocabulary particularly as they relate to wine are more often than not derogatory (snobby, snooty, snotty, etc.).

Our struggle to describe scent is described by Avery Gilbert, author of What the Nose Knows, as the verbal barrier. Given there’s no lack of words for smell in the English language, Gilbert defines the verbal barrier as a cognitive problem. Because smell evokes much deeper memories than either vision or sound, olfactory blandness works to obscure memory.

Imagine the rich olfactory landscape of the Onge, a tribe that defines everything primarily by smell. Their calendar is dictated by the nose; seasons are named after particular scents, largely depending on what types of flowers are in blossom or fruits are in season. They personally identify according to scent and their scent-centered culture is expressed by emphasis on the nose in their language. Even the Onge greeting “Konyune onorange-tanka?” which is the English equivalent of “How are you?” translates as “How is your nose?”

The Onge aren’t the only culture that holds scent in high esteem. In Algeria, the nose is called “nif” and synonymous with honor while in India, greeting someone by smelling their head is the equivalent of a hug or a kiss in the West.  In many cultures, the symbolic links between scent and emotion makes the sense of smell the most powerful of the five senses.

As wine professionals, we operate in a culture where odors have been coded largely through the use of rubrics like the Wine and Spirits Education Trust Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT) and the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Tasting Grid both of which are decried as insufficient for being analytical. In response, let’s look beyond language and shift our cultural norms by creating a richer olfactory landscape that encourages us to attach meaning to scent.

Functionals defining premium hydration 2.0

With traditional soft drink manufacturers and venture-capital firms betting big on the rapid growth of premium hydration, a seemingly endless stream of products — the majority of which can be described as functional beverages — has flooded the soft drink market.

From the reinvention of first-generation energy drinks in a bid for “clean” energy to the promise of “healthy” alcohol, consumer preferences are moving toward what one Fortune 500 executive described as a “triangle of taste, nutrition and convenience.”

There’s little doubt this disruptive reinvention of the beverage category will impact wine and beverage alcohol consumption for a host of reasons. Among them is alcohol moderation or abstinence by younger consumers whose lifestyles already include frequent consumption of functional products. While beer and spirits producers have already found purchase in the category through brand extensions and acquisitions, wine producers don’t seem in any hurry to participate.

Read the full analysis here –