In the world of wine, there are those who are known by many, whose influence over wine is astounding: Robert Parker, for example. There are also those who are lesser known but still adored by the masses, whose wit and charm are welcoming and refreshing: ahem, myself comes to mind. Then there are those who are not very well known, at least not in certain regions, but should be. Emile Peynaud falls into this category.
Emile Peynaud was born in Madiran France in 1912 and grew up to become what the French undoubtedly hold as one of the most important and noble professions: a wine expert. But Emile Peynaud wasn’t just a run of the mill wine expert, he was a revolutionary. If the wine revolution involved actual battles, Peynaud would have been on the mightiest horse, leading the charge.
Developing an interest in wine at the age of 14, Peynaud studied under, then with, chemical engineer Jean Ribereau-Gayon. It was during this time that Peynaud realized he had a skill for analyzing wine, a skill that eventually led him to get his doctorate and go on to become a professor of enology at the University of Bordeaux.
Soon after becoming a virtual wine wizard, Peynaud’s penchant for wine analysis took a turn: he became less focused on analyzing wine and focused more on analyzing winemaking. Unbeknownst at the time, he would soon do for wine what Sara Lee did for cake: He was about to forever change the way wine was made.
During the years that followed World War II, winemaking processes were not refined nor understood. This led to a “blind leading the blind” concept of winemaking and greatly hurt production. Simply put, the wine wasn’t as good as it could have been. Peynaud set out to change this, and he succeeded.
It turns out that winemaking is almost as hard as rocket science and the industry needed someone to come in who understood the science but could explain it and apply it in a manner void of chemistry, logarithms, and all that other stuff that puts most of us to sleep. Peynaud was this guy: he is credited with changing winemaking by taking science and spinning it in a concise, clear, and understandable manner.