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What is Oenology?

Allison Boelcke
By Allison Boelcke
Updated May 16, 2024
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Oenology is the scientific study of winemaking. It involves the entire process from growing the grapes to marketing the finished products. A professional who is trained in oenology, known as an oenologist, works to develop the best tasting wines.

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from crushed, fermented grapes. Those who work in the field of oenology begin the winemaking process by selecting a vineyard. Oenologists are trained in the chemistry of soil and climate and the affect on the quality of the grapes and the fermentation process. They then use that knowledge to choosing a grape vineyard for wine production.

Oenology also applies the knowledge of proper grape harvesting for wine. Certain grape varieties may need to be picked at precise times in order to maintain their optimal flavors. An oenologist can differentiate the conditions of grapes by their colors and tastes.

Once oenologists determine grapes are in their peak conditions, the grapes are methodically picked in order to prevent breakage or discoloration that can damage their flavors. The stems are removed from the grapes as soon as possible after picking because they can make the grapes taste bitter. An oenologist can then supervise the preparation of the grapes.

Oenology involves the scientific differences between the grapes for red and white wines. Red grapes are crushed with the skins intact to give a more intense flavor. White wine is typically made from light green grapes that are crushed, with the skins filtered from the juice for a more subtle taste.

For the sugars of the grapes’ juices to become alcoholic, oenologists add cultured yeasts or additional sugars to the crushed grapes. The grapes are then placed in containers to ferment. The type of container and the amount of fermentation time depends on the variety of wine being produced. For instance, red wines are generally fermented in oak barrels and white wines are fermented in stainless steel containers.

Oenologists are trained to classify wines by appearance, taste, and smell. Once the wine has fermented for its specified period of time, an oenologist will sample it to determine if its ready for packaging. After a wine is bottled and labeled, it may need to be aged for a designated amount of time to reach its peak taste. Certain wines may be fine to sell immediately, while others are aged for years.

Although oenology is generally focused on winemaking, it can also include wine marketing. Oenologists may meet with buyers to promote their wines. Those who work in the marketing aspect may also arrange wine tastings so potential customers can sample their products.

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