HE MIGHT SPEND a lot of time in a galaxy far, far, away but just to show he is not necessarily as smart as people think he is, Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt is also a (very small) winemaker. And now a director at the Australian Wine Research Institute.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to grow wine.
But it almost certainly helps.
So when Brian Schmidt submitted his resume for a directorship at the Australian Wine Research Institute every other applicant might as well have packed up their pitches and gone straight home.
The cosmologist and winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess) is the complete package.
He is an internationally renowned brainiac, who with his colleagues turned science upside down when they proved the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae. As you do.
Schmidt also now has a hand on the tiller of government investment in Australia’s science infrastructure as the newest director at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI).
And when he’s not roaming galaxies far, far away, he grows grapes and makes wine in his spare time – only to discover all that grey matter counts for nought if the wine stars aren’t correctly aligned.
Producing just 250 cases a year at what he self-deprecatingly describes as his “ultra boutique” vineyard and winery Maipenrai in the Canberra district he still has plenty from his 2003vintage which he admits did not go exactly as planned (and is happy to forward a case to anyone interested – he calculates about one in seven bottles is now drinkable).
But disaster is a point on which Schmidt seizes when discussing his future role with AWRI and how important the organisation and its work are to winegrowers big and small.
When opening last year’s WineTech Conference Schmidt told delegates “failure is OK if the breakthroughs are spectacular”.
“As Einstein said, if we knew what we were doing then it wouldn’t be research,” he said.
“The best research is often basic and risky but we need to let researchers work broadly within their areas of interest in what is a creative process.
“And science is creative. Bad science is boring but good science is creative and helps us unlock the secrets of the world around us.
“The most valuable discoveries are the ones we do not know about – so you have to cut scientists some slack.”
This approach will be music to the ears of Australia’s viticulture and wine scientists and researchers.
Schmidt also sang the praises of Australia’s levy system, which gives it dollar-for-dollar Federal Government backing to create a cash reserve to help fund vital research.
“Australia is fortunate to have that levy system, it is unique in the world and it is powerful,” he told WineTech.
“Its research is used by all, from ultra boutiques such as mine to the likes of Treasury Wine Estates,” he said.
Full story in February’s Grapegrower & Winemaker.