Chemistry and biology of winemaking

Chemistry and biology of winemaking 

Ian Hornsey 

Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry 2007 | 458pp | ?29.95 (HB) ISBN 9780854042661 

Reviewed by Jamie Goode

Ian Hornsey, an academic (botany/microbiology), founded Nethergate Brewery in 1986. He ran this successfully, but after a battle with cancer of the tongue in 1999 (which he won), he decided to opt for the less hectic life of a writer. ’I’ve never been happier’, he says, with regard to his change of occupation. After several publications on beer, he has decided to turn his attention to wine, and the result is this book. 

It’s a thorough work, written in quite an academic tone. But although some statements are referenced, most aren’t, so it resembles most closely a textbook in terms of style and readability. 

The scope is broad, although Hornsey doesn’t claim to provide a comprehensive coverage akin to that, for example, of the double volume Handbook of enology  by Rib?reau-Gayon et al, which is the standard work in this area. However, there’s plenty of meat (or is it bouquet?) here for students of wine, and even a casual browse through leaves the reader with an appreciation of just how much science is involved in wine production - much of it still not fully understood.  

Hornsey admits that he’s not a wine expert; considering this, he’s done a great job in putting together such a book. Perhaps the only evidence of this lack of specialist knowledge is in the fact that this book sticks to well-trodden ground, without really delving off into some of the more topical wine science issues that are controversial - one example would be the rather brief coverage of wine bottle closures, and the relative lack of discussion of the latest work on oxygen and post-bottling wine chemistry.  

Overall, I was pretty impressed by this book, and in particular in the historical context to modern winemaking which Hornsey provides. You’d have to be scientifically literate to get the most from it - I reckon a non-scientist would find a lot of the chemistry a bit daunting. But for those with the necessary background, I can’t think of many competing books around the same price that do as good a job.