Wednesday, April 22, 2020

New video: UC Davis enology professor Dr. Andrew Waterhouse

When I was an undergrad, my favorite lecturers felt like rock stars to me. Little did I know it felt that way to them also.

For my latest Intoxicating Conversation, I chat with UC Davis professor Dr. Andrew Waterhouse. Dr. Waterhouse is Director of the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine & Food Science at UC Davis and he has been very patient with me over the years when I have contacted him with some goofball question.

For example, last year, after reading "The Poison Squad," a book about the earliest days of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), I wondered about something that the FDA's original chemist worried about but never researched: whether sulfites have a cumulative effect on the human body when you consume them over time.

Most people would just fret about it, write a conspiracy-theory blog post, or order a Goop product. I sent Dr. Waterhouse an email. And he answered my question! He took it very seriously, and cited some research. Here's his conclusion:

"Our bodies process 1000 mg of sulfites per day. The 10 mg or so in a glass of wine would hardly overload the system. A small extra load like this would not be expected to lead to some sort of cumulative toxicity. And, as the (National Institute of Health) paper showed, they were not able to show a reaction to sulfites even by sensitive subjects except at the highest level. 
The early toxicologists might have been concerned because the metabolic pathway for sulfites wasn’t described until the 20th century. 
On the broader issues of toxicants in our environment, I feel we should require some sort of testing before any chemical is released into our environment at significant levels. The Europeans are approaching this standard, but in the US, we allow the production of almost anything, and wait to see what happens."
So, about that professors-as-rock-stars analogy: We talk about a few interesting things in the conversation, like how UC Davis is still able to hold required-for-graduation wine-tasting classes without any actual wine tasting. (By the way, students, your professors know whether or not you're attending virtual class.) And how students' favorite class is not the same without the barbecue afterward.

But the most interesting thing, to me, is when he tells how difficult it is to lecture without a live audience. Mick Jagger would no doubt say the same thing. But what does Mick know about phenolic compounds?

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