November 22, 2017

Cornell University Pops Cork on Wine Library

wine library ribbon cuttingThe seven foot tall stacks at Cornell University’s newest library are kept cool and dry, perfect for cardigan wearing. But that’s where the sense of familiarity might end for many LJ readers, as the space contains no books, and offers no borrowing privileges.

The brainchild of Susan Henry and Kathryn Boor, the former and current deans of the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), Cornell’s wine library was part of a $105 million renovation of the campus’s Stocking Hall. The new space will store wines used for teaching in the school’s Viticulture and Enology program, where students in CALS already grow and press their own grapes. Previously, storing wine properly presented a challenge for the program, said Gavin Sacks, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science, whose research focuses on the many factors that affect the flavor of wines, from vine to cellar.

“One challenge with using existing food science storage facilities is that they are generally freezers designed for very long, very cold storage, or else small rooms designed for short, relatively high temperature storage to test for spoilage risk,” said Sacks.

Neither of those spaces make for ideal wine storage conditions, which need to be immaculately controlled for temperature and humidity. The new space allows Sacks’s students and colleagues to investigate the changes that a wine goes through during a normal course of storage, which can last years or even decades. Kept at a constant temperature of 54 degrees and a static, low level of humidity, this dry, cool cellar now houses more than 3,400 bottles of wine from around the United States.

wine stacks at Cornell's new wine libraryCurrently, the library is stocked with predominantly New York and California wines, gathered with the assistance of alumnus John Wilkinson, a vintner who made the initial endowment of 700 bottles and reached out to winery colleagues to make donations as well. Alas, for those hoping to pursue independent study, the facility is kept under lock and key, and only faculty, staff, and teaching assistants are able to access the collection for educational purposes.

To that end, the department gets not only the bottle, but important information about the chemistry of the wines that wouldn’t be available at a liquor store. Students and professors will have access to information including ethanol levels, pH, and the concentrations of various acids and sugars that go into it.

“We also expect to get detailed information about both grape-growing and winemaking production practices, such as what yeast was added or what sort of filtration was performed,” said Sacks.

Currently, this information is kept in a spreadsheet monitored by enology program staff and students, but Sacks hasn’t written off the possibility of upgrading to more powerful cataloging software as the collection grows. Going forward, Sacks expects the wine library will also house wines that can serve as teaching tools, but may not be commercially available.

“This could include wines that have microbial contamination, and would ordinarily be discarded,” Sacks said, as well as “wines with strong (and off-putting) flavor characteristics that would ordinarily only be used as part of blends.”

In addition to the storage of teaching wines, the wine library at Cornell will serve as long-term storage for experimental wines developed in the course of student research projects.

“There is an absence of literature on the long-term effects of variation in pH or trace amounts of sugars on wine chemistry,” Sacks told LJ. “This space affords us the opportunity to investigate these questions.”

And it’s not just wine—the space could also house research projects from students and faculty studying other alcoholic beverages like beer, cider, and spirits.

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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Comments

  1. Great article about an exciting library! That being said, the renovated hall at Cornell is called Stocking Hall, not Stockman.

  2. Côtes de Provence says:

    I’m curious how the ‚media-lending‘ is done?
    Get a full bottle, bring back an empty one.
    ;-)