The SOMM Journal

December 2017 / January 2018

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 52 of 124

52 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2017/2018 { wine history } THANKS TO HIS bacteriological discoveries made in the 1860s, Louis Pasteur is often referred to as the father of modern wine. It's a well-deserved title considering he invented the technique of pasteurization, therefore preventing bacterial contamination in wine. But Pasteur couldn't have arrived to these conclusions without earlier experimentations by fellow scientists. One such predeces - sor was Antoine Lavoisier, who, according to author Paul Lukacs in his book Inventing Wine, "was the first person to explain wine's chemistry with any degree of accuracy." The events in Lavoisier's personal history rival the dramatic narrative of his groundbreaking discover - ies. A nobleman and chemist during France's ancien régime (referring to the "old order" prior to the French Revolution), Lavoisier served as an administrator of the fermé générale—a third-party operation of tax collectors contracted with the king. While the wealth Lavoisier accu- mulated enabled him to fund his studies, it eventually led to his death by guillotine at the apex of the Revolution. Also noted as the inventor of modern chemistry, Lavoisier is best known for recognizing the nature of respiration and combustion in the mid-18th century. He also helped construct the metric system and was the first person to draw up a table of elements, naming the ele - ments hydrogen and oxygen as a result. He also discov- ered the conservation of mass, which is where Lavoisier's historic contribution to the world of wine comes into play—fermentation. The basis of conservation of mass states that although matter can shift form, its mass will remain the same. According to Lukacs, Lavoisier employed this theory to postulate that grape juice converts to wine through a "chemical reaction in which an exchange of oxygen divides its sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide," and neither gains or loses matter in the process. The result, Lavoisier said of fermentation, is "one of the most striking and extraordinary of all those that chemistry presents to us." Fermentation may seem like a simple process to us today, but without Lavoisier's observations, we can only guess how much longer it would have remained a mysterious and magical occurrence. If Louis Pasteur is the father of modern wine, perhaps Antoine Lavoisier is the grandfather. The Grandfather of Modern Wine PHOTO COURTESY OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART A LESSON IN FERMENTATION WITH PIONEERING CHEMIST ANTOINE LAVOISIER by Jessie Birschbach An oil on canvas painting from 1788 titled "Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and His Wife, Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze (1758–1836)" by artist Jacques-Louis David. Notice the chemistry tools.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The SOMM Journal - December 2017 / January 2018