I have to apologize that it has been exactly four years between Schrödinger’s Chardonnay, Part I, and this sequel. Insert many lame reasons for this fact right here. That said, it doesn’t come close to the longest gap between movie sequels, a record held by Bambi and Bambi II at sixty-three years. For those of you who don’t remember Bambi II, it featured a marginalized and disillusioned Bambi rallying his disgruntled woodland friends to set fire to a deer-meat packing plant in upper Pennsylvania. Straight to DVD, that one.
If you haven’t read Part I but you’re totally up for geeking out in a Magnitude Five Wonk Fest, I encourage you to do so now. If you’re into the whole brevity thing, as The Dude would say, let me recap Part I for you now. I have come to look at a glass of un-tasted wine as being in a quantum state: It potentially tastes like any number of different things – like berries and figs and plums and coffee – though it’s obviously not made of those things. To go one step further, if I am trying to detect notes of cherry in the wine, will I find them, because that’s what I’m looking for?
The parallel to quantum physics here is exemplified by the “thought experiment” developed by Erwin Schrodinger back in 1935. In this experiment, Schrodinger imagined placing a cat in a box that contained a radioactive source, a monitor and a flask of poison. The box is then sealed and one cannot see inside. If the monitor inside detects radioactivity, the flask of poison is shattered and the cat is killed. Because one cannot see the cat, the monitor or the poison, the implication is that after a while, the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. To go one step further, opening the box may break the flask of poison as well, so by observing the state of the cat we may in fact alter the state of the cat.
Therefore, quantum theory may apply to wine. Wine is either sweet or dry, and it’s only when we bring our sensory prejudices to the wine and taste it that we conclude what its nature is. And in doing so, we create the reality of the wine.
With me still? This actually makes more sense the more you drink.
I had to find out if there was any validity to this notion, and to do so, I needed to talk to a quantum physicist. That’s how I found Dr. Raphael Bousso. Dr. Bousso received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1998 and went on to become a Post-doc at Stanford University. He also worked at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara. In 2002/03 he was a fellow at the Harvard University physics department and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. In July 2003 he joined the physics department at UC Berkeley. He also digs wine, and he traded 30 minutes of my inane, quasi-stoner questions for a nice bottle of Carneros Pinot Noir.
Dr. Bousso’s conclusion? Mehhhhhh notsomuch.
“Quantum theory only works on a quantum level,” Dr. Bousso said. “It applies only to a single particle of energy. You can’t look at that couch and ask, ‘I wonder what the state of that couch is?’ because obviously, it’s a couch.”
I dig this guy. Reduced me to a complete moron in one sentence, but I dig him none the less.
The Good Doctor went on to explain that the more complex the system, the less quantum theory can apply. The kinds of answers I was looking for were more closely found in the study of chemistry, biology and maybe even psychology.
Psychology? Not philosophy?
“Influencing a person to agree with you in tasting butter or oak or grapefruit in a wine is more an operation of psychology,” he answered. “If you say, ‘do you taste grapefruit in here,’ you are not creating a change in quantum state. That’s more about whether the taster is apt to be swayed by the knowledge of a perceived authority figure.”
That’s why this guy has eight schools in his bio and I have one.
Then he dropped this bomb on me. “You have to understand,” he explained, “that wine is extraordinarily complex because it’s a living thing. Grapes have DNA. Yeast has DNA.”
Though I left Dr. Bousso’s office thanking him profusely for his knowledge and insight, I couldn’t help but feel he had only replaced one weird idea for another. Perhaps the mystery of wine lies not in quantum theory, but in genetics? Perhaps winemakers are nothing more or less than genetic engineers. They are true believers and the purveyors of Wine Eugenics, grafting and cloning to achieve the purest form of DNA. They are men and women who literally play God, each creating a wine in their own image.
Albert Einstein once wrote, “the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” For now, I’ll just have to drink to that.
Getting Your Science On and Having Your Mind Blown Pairs With: The 2014 Rocca Family Vineyards Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. I’ll admit some bias here, but it’s well deserved: Rocca winemaker Paul Colantuoni is a friend of mine, and an absolute rock star from Mars. Since replacing Celia Welch as Rocca’s man behind the grape after the 2007 vintage, Paul has produced nothing but stunning reds for this boutique Napa winery. He is a master of native yeast fermentation, and works almost exclusively with organic grapes.
So when Rocca decided to produce their first white wine – and first non-estate wine at that – Paul just did what he does best. He sourced fruit from the Lancel Creek Vineyard, just above the tiny hamlet of Occidental on the Sonoma Coast, a two-acre parcel lovingly (and organically) farmed by Ulises Valdez. The resulting wine is sublime beyond measure, and in the true spirit of this post, I won’t influence you with descriptors of various fruits, colors and smells. Just go get you some right now, as I believe there are less than ten cases left as of this post. You’re welcome.