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By Dateline Staff on February 27, 2018

‘An Almost Perfect’ Vessel for the Experience

For their first date, a friend took James and Penelope Shackelford on a plane ride to Sonoma County to visit the Italian Swiss Colony Winery in Asti. Since then, for 40-something years, the couple have visited wine regions and vineyards and tasted wines around California and around the world. Now that hobby, combined with Jim Shackelford’s career as a materials scientist at UC Davis, has produced a book, The Glass of Wine.

“Seeing the world of grape growing and winemaking close at hand while continuing to do research on glass, along with our increasingly sophisticated touring of the wine country ... created the nucleus of an idea — glass plays a unique role in wine culture, and it is a story worth telling,” the Shackelfords write in Chapter 1.

In an interview, Jim Shackelford jumped right into the science of glass — as to be expected from the distinguished professor emeritus in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

“It’s an almost perfect surface for wine,” he said of glass. It is transparent, so you can appreciate the color and clarity of the wine; and it does not interact with the wine, leaving the flavor untainted.

Penelope Shackelford, an arts writer and blogger and former teacher, said, “When I drink wine, I am taken to where it came from ... the grapes, the soil, the landscape, the geography, the people and all of that, the earth, the elements — everything (that) comes together to produce that glass of wine.”

It is “a very, very elegant drink,” she said, adding that she cannot imagine having a glass of wine out of a cup or a plastic glass. “I want the instrument I’m using to drink it, to match the elegance of the wine.”

Two people toast across table, each holding a glass of wine.
The Shackelfords toast their book, "The Glass of Wine."

The Shackelfords’ book delves into the technicalities of ionic bonds and structural properties as well as the history of glassmaking and its long relationship with wine, the importance of clarity and shape, different shapes and styles of stemware, corks and stoppers, and the relationship among air, glass and wine

Said Jim: “What I found fascinating was the relationship between air and wine.” A tiny amount of air makes its way through the cork as wine matures, and this can change flavors over time. Whether to uncork wine early to “let it breathe” depends very much on the wine; some are traditionally decanted to create a wide surface exposed to air.

“There’s a complex dance of air and wine,” he said.

Glassmaking originated about 4,000 years ago, although winemaking had been practiced much longer than that. A major innovation was the invention of glassblowing about 200 B.C.

A second major innovation came in the 18th century, when glassmakers near Venice began to produce exceptionally clear and elegant stemware. Around the same time, the English glassmaker George Ravenscroft began making high-quality “leaded crystal” glass. Clarity of glass generated a demand for better, clearer wine.

The future of glass and wine will be tied up with sustainability, the Shackelfords predict. A large proportion of the energy used in the wine industry involves the production and shipping of glass containers. “You can recycle glass, but for wine you have to recycle the right glass,” Penelope said.

— , senior public information representative,
Office of Strategic Communications

Terroir: For every advocate, there is a skeptic

John Buechsenstein, who has been teaching in the for going on 40 years, is co-editor of the recently published Wine and Place: A Terroir Reader, laying out all sides of what the publisher calls “one of the most celebrated and controversial subjects in wine today.”

“Most will agree that well-made wine has the capacity to express ‘somewhereness,’ a set of consistent aromatics, flavors or textures that amount to a signature expression of place,” the Stuntverkoop Press states in its description of the book. “But for every advocate, there is a skeptic, and for every writer singing praises related to terroir there is a study or a detractor seeking to debunk terroir as myth.”

John Buechsenstein mugshot
Buechsenstein

The publisher states Buechsenstein and co-editor Tim Patterson present a multitude of voices and points of view — from winemakers to wine critics, from science to literature — seeking not to prove terroir’s veracity but to explore its pros, cons and other aspects.

The Wine and Place bibliography comprises more than 140 citations, many of them from UC Davis faculty members past and present.

Buechsenstein himself is a graduate of UC Davis, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in enology-fermentation science in 1978. He then started on a master’s, continuing his work with Professor Cornelius Ough.

His teachers included Ann Noble (“our rock star enology sensory prof”), with whom he would co-author the paper that led to the creation of the Wine Aroma Wheel; and Rose Marie Pangborn (“our famous food science-sensory prof”).

A year and a half into his graduate studies, Buechsenstein “got a rare admission to the Defense Language Institute ... and I couldn’t pass that up,” he said. “I was in a six-month immersion program in French. By then, we had two young daughters and I was offered the ‘dream job’ as enologist at Joseph Phelps Vineyards.”

As his career progressed, he made award-winning wines at Fife Vineyards and McDowell Valley Vineyards, and, most recently, served as chief operating officer of Sauvignon Republic Cellars, specializing in sauvignon blanc from around the world. He also runs a business he calls Wine Education & Consultation, and is a visiting instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

He is a past president of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture, and a judge in wine competitions around North America.

Patterson died in 2014 after starting Wine and Place. He was an award-winning home winemaker and author of several books, including Home Winemaking for Dummies and Concannon: The First One Hundred and Twenty-Five Years. He was also a columnist for Wines & Vines and a contributor to numerous books, magazines and websites.

“In their chosen roles as compilers and contrarians, the experts behind Wine and Place have initiated a crucial dialogue about terroir,” said Amy Trubek, author of The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey Into Terroir. “They have assembled, with erudition and wit, the perspectives of scholars, journalists and winemakers, and they have created fruitful and engaging juxtapositions as to the definition, the construction, the meaning, the analysis and the power of terroir. Everyone will learn something new, from wine aficionados to scientists to students of wine history and culture.”

— , senior public information representative
and editor of Dateline UC Davis, Office of Strategic Communications