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

People love the phrase In vino veritas I imagine because it rolls off the tongue so well, but additionally because of its witty reference to that muscles loosening when much vino is imbibed. In wine, or with wine, there is truth. But I wonder sometimes whether In vino scientia holds as well. Is there any true knowledge with wine? What follows are some observations I have made after 5 years in the industry spending time as a graduate student at UC Davis in addition to working in Fiddlehead Cellars, Sacred Hill, the vineyards of Germany, and HdV Wines. Most of this comes from a seminar I delivered as part of an interview for an Extension Faculty position that I ultimately turned down. Because extension positions naturally focus on distilling knowledge from both academia and the industry into forms that are usable my focus are some principles of science, enology, and in particular, how I think they may relate to aiding advancement of an industry.


I believe the goal of obtaining more knowledge of – and about – grape growing and winemaking is to use all our understanding to optimize our viticulture and enology to ensure we are making the best wine possible each vintage. Some may argue the real goal is to make money (certainly the owner’s goal if they are not also the winemaker). Why should these two goals be incompatible? They are not, but it takes scientific understanding, industry commitment, marketing, and cooperation to make it all happen.


But does anything stand in the way of this goal? As with most subjects, nothing is clear cut and nothing is blameless. I’d like to present the good, the bad, and ugly of Science and the Industry in terms of each’s ability to help us gain knowledge. Let’s start with science. How does science help us gain viticultural and enological knowledge and understanding?


The Good: Extremely valuable and responsible for much beneficial and useful technical knowledge regarding winemaking.

The Bad: Difficult to integrate all true possibilities that affect a certain outcome often the scientific problem is posed as one specific condition or treatment, but initial conditions of juice, or the condition of finished wine rarely have only one element that may cause a problemi.e. errors on being too focused or esoteric, requires patience

The ugly: Much more unknown than known. Requiring more research, money, etc.

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