Epistemology and Enology: a philosophical reflection on how we gain and use knowledge in the wine industry Part 2

So how does the industry help us gain knowledge and understanding about winemaking?

I must be careful here because, well, I am speaking to the industry. But also because I think it is easy to misunderstand my point. Certainly there are practices we employ that science has not shown an effect for yet, but may indubitably have an effect. The fact is we don’t always know why we do things because they simply haven’t figured everything out, but the bottom line is decisions must be made. So the risk of course is that people tend to begin to think that their practices are impacting the wine and therefore their beliefs about winemaking begin to cloud their knowledge of winemaking and their ability to learn. Let me try again: we begin to think we do always know why we do something, or we think we have real knowledge. Do we? Here’s some good and some not so good with the Industry:


The good: Loads of experience, empirical data and intuition, and the cogs of wine production.

The bad: Explanations of success usually tied more to one’s general practices and their beliefs about winemaking than reproducible information (or scientia, knowledge). For better or for worse but as far really knowing something this is for worse.

The ugly: Distilling what is really true, what really worked, from an anecdote associated with success. I tried this and it worked! Did it? That was true for you, but not in my vineyard or cellar. Oh.

The point: we can use more understanding and the industry can help us.


The Goal: develop and utilize our understanding of enology (via science and the industry) to make great wine.


So what to do? First let me say that there is a great cooperative spirit in the wine industry and a large degree of learning from one another. But I still observe skepticism due to context and dubious sources of knowledge being used. I beg your patience as I look a little further into how the good, the bad, and the ugly appear to manifest itself in the science/industry interface and their attempt to gain and use knowledge. Simply put, you might be able to say that epistemologically we have become contextualist, or relativist. I don’t think this is isolated to the wine industry but probably largely cultural. It might seem odd to delve into the history of western thought in the middle of a wine blog post, but I believe it is critical to understand our presuppositions – in particular with knowledge – in order come up with an approach to improving what we know about wine. So, a quick review.