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The nobel art of winemaking

by Peter Davies

Our district is home to a very talented scientist and winemaker – Nobel Prize winner Professor Brian Schmidt.

The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics was recently awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Riess for the 1998 discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae. Despite the somewhat obvious (to me) but incorrect conclusion that gravity would result in a slowing of expansion, Brian and his team were able to demonstrate that the reverse was in fact correct.

As an astronomer at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the ANU (formerly Mt Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatories) Brian still works with supernovae (exploding stars) and Gamma Ray Bursts. He is now heading up a project to build a new telescope that will map the Southern Skies.

We can scarcely do justice in the space available to the fascinating astronomical journey involving the Hubble telescope, monitoring light shifts in distance stars, and Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity amongst other chapters that paved the way to the top science prize.

The possibility that the universe is accelerating by some unknown form that is spread throughout the Cosmos is a principal conclusion still being tested by the ANU team and their international colleagues as they delve deep into the skies. You’ll find the whole story on Brian’s very good home page at mso Click on ‘the accelerating universe’.

The other life of Brian

A quite different but also successful quest takes place on family acreage between Wamboin and Sutton. Here Brian has planted 1.1 hectares of grapes, specialising in the red grape variety Pinot Noir.

His small winery, Maipenrai (Thai for “It’s all right”) overlooks the Yass River Valley, 760 metres above sea level where the vineyard’s rocky soil and cool climate make growing Pinot Noir a constant challenge, but what results is an intensely flavoured wine.

The Canberra Wine District is home to winemaker mathematicians, public servants, entomologists, writers and now has a Nobel Prize winner to count among its members. As an astronomer, Brian deals on a daily basis with the universal laws of physics, so the task of producing high quality wine from such a challenging variety is a welcome diversion into the ever-changing world of weather, grapevines, ferments and barrels.
There is an old saying – you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it. Being the scientist that he is, Brian has developed a comprehensive database of the weather at Maipenrai over the years and uses it to manage the vines to achieve optimum flavour at harvest.

Four stars near Sutton

Last year this was recognised with leading wine writer, James Halliday, awarding Maipenrai a four star status. “What Brian is doing with his wines is to be commended. He is producing a wonderful Pinot Noir in a difficult climate. The Canberra region is known more for Riesling and Shiraz but the Pinot continues to shine with a number of winemakers creating great drops,” Brad Schafferius, President of the Canberra District Wine Industry Association, said.

Following Brian’s Nobel Prize win, the Maipenrai Pinot Noir current vintage has sold out, but the 2009 Maipenrai Pinot Noir will be available from December. Wines are available via mail order and select retailers and restaurants. See for more information and stockists.

For those who want the everyday man, Brian Schmidt can be followed on Twitter @cosmicpinot where he recently tweeted,

“I do not have the answer to life, the universe and everything. My advice – work hard, take risks, have fun, and you never know…”

vineyard image credit

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