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Guest lecturer for a university class?!

Science One is a difficult first-year program at UBC, which contains around 75 avid students. Its claim to fame are integrated classes that take place in one room, where professors switch out every hour instead of students, and there are term-end projects among other extra things that you have to do, that you otherwise wouldn’t do if you were in the normal science program. I mean, yes – this included tougher schoolwork, but there was also a field trip at the beginning of the year where I met some pretty cool people. And spending time with the same students helps lower the obstacle of meeting new people, especially when we all bonded by suffering through studying.

At the beginning of the lecture I gave a huge thanks to my Science One biology professor Celeste for inviting me – and to the other professors who surely thought this was a bad idea. I was stoked to do it, of course, because I was admittedly not the most conventional in my year (or scientific: let’s be real here), opting for the bizarre route for the term projects instead of attempting to cure cancer or do fancy shit with stem cells like everyone else. My term one project was a paper titled “Human Male Homosexuality: Population Genetics and Evolutionary Tenacity”, while my term two project was titled “Linking Mathematics and Gastronomy: A Simple Analysis of a Particular Pastry Height as a Function of Leavening Agent”. All I did for that second project was bake muffins. It was great.


Of course, talking about wine to a group of first-year university students is like telling a room full of vegetarians why I’m enthused about herb-encrusted steak. Bear with me, I said, and I’ll conjure up some analogies that are more fashioned to our generation. That, and 40 minutes of wine discussion plus 10 minutes for questions isn’t a whole lot, especially when I can go on for hours and hours about things like grape skins.

I’m almost never comfortable with talking about myself and I think that it’s tough to list my achievements without feeling like I’m being a huge douchebag, though the point of being invited to give a lecture was that I’ve accomplished a couple of wee things in my unorthodox post-Science One field. Inserted a picture of myself here and there. I may or may not have been drunk in some of them. Still relevant.

After explaining that even the worst people (me) can pass the strenuous Science One program (I’m brazenly confident that I placed within the bottom third of the class), I talked about the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), Master Sommelier (MS), and Master of Wine (MW) programs, and then quickly moved on to why I like wine, condensed into four main points:

1) Wine is like an alcoholic photograph.

Brief concepts on terroir and how wine can express its place. Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire will taste different from Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux, and Pinot Noir from Burgundy will taste different from Rhodanien Grenache. I talked about how grapes grown from the slopes around the Mosel (in Germany) command different prices than wines made from flatter areas.

From the beginning of the lecture there was a student with his head resting on his fist with an “oh, great” look plastered all over his face, so at this point I was afraid to glance at him. I don’t blame him since it was the last day of class: in fact, I was afraid half of the students wouldn’t attend, where there would be visible holes clearly showing that cliques of students definitely agreed not to attend and instead opted to check out that ~*~cO0l nEw FoOd CaRt~*~.

I gave an explanation of a blind wine tasting, and gave an example conclusion: “2010 Gevrey-Chambertin from the Côte de Nuits region, which is in the Côte d’Or, from the Burgundy region of France.” Unexpected woahs and gasps from the crowd of students. I was excited that they were excited, and I suggested everyone watch Somm if they were intrigued by that one sentence. (I forced my parents to watch it months and months ago and they really enjoyed it.)

2) Wine is like Pokemon.

Here’s where I got nerdy and ridiculous about grape varieties. Grapes have their own idiosyncrasies, both in the vineyard and in the bottle, and the variety is astounding. I’m convinced that being a Pokemon Trainer is like being a Sommelier, where choosing 6 Pokemon to be on your team to defeat the Elite Four is exactly like trying to pair 6 wines to a 6-course meal.

A Science One lecture is not a Science One lecture without a bit of science, so I talked some molecules that give certain wines their distinct character, like methoxypyrazines, rotundone, monoterpenes, and 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene (TDN). And a wine lecture is not a wine lecture without discussing how New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc smells like cat pee, or how South African Pinotage smells like the Hunger Games.

3) Wine is like Ollivanders Wand Shop

The wine chooses the wizard! A big part of wine is the enormity of products and knowing what to choose, so I talked a bit about the business of wine, the consumer, and a bit of the psychology of the industry.

4) Wine is like Science One… and Arts One

Of course, one of my favourite things about wine, I explained, was that the whole field is a crossroads between so many subjects. It’s a non-trivial amalgamation of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, atmospheric science, culture, history, business, psychology, gastronomy, and creative writing. Few subjects can do the same thing, and even fewer are hard to get drunk off of.

What stunned me the most (besides “why is no one laughing at this joke I practiced”) were the impressive questions at the end of the lecture, to the point where I started every answer off with “that’s a very good question” – but I legitimately thought they were all very good questions. I finished every answer with “did that answer your question?” because I often forgot the question and might have gone off on a tangent.

Do some winemakers attempt to isolate certain flavours in wines?
Can you tell between different types of wood when tasting wine?
Why is oak the main type of wood used in wine?
Does the type of yeast matter?
What does a “good year” mean?
Is purple your favourite colour?

Some students asked me for wine suggestions after class. Yes. OWN IT.

I was afraid no one would sign up for the post-lecture session in the room upstairs that came with free pizza, but students actually showed up. Bless their hearts. I mean, I would’ve been okay if no one showed up because pizza by myself is heaven minus the alcohol, anyways, but it was a good time.

Just a small teaspoon of a taste, perhaps, of what I want to do in the future.


DipWSET, Certified Sommelier, garbage person.

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