A few things immediately come to mind at the mention of Wisconsin: cheese, beer, the Green Bay Packers. Nick Smith wants to add wine to that list.
Smith just wrapped up his first year as the UW’s enologist and associate outreach specialist for the Department of Food Science, mixing the science behind wine with the business of making a commercial product.
As an academic, Smith researches new ways to improve efficiency in the winemaking process for Wisconsin’s 110 wineries. On the industry side, he helps winemakers address quality concerns and other potential issues before the year’s grape harvest.
After earning his business degree from the University of Minnesota, Smith’s growing interest in home brewing led him to pursue a career in fermented-beverage science. He worked in Oregon, California, and Minnesota before coming to Madison. Now Smith, whose job is funded by state and industry grants, is focused on developing a fermented-beverage outreach program that includes short courses for wine and cider makers.
Alongside the outreach program, the food science department is also connecting students with Wollersheim Winery, located about twenty-five miles from campus in Sauk City, to develop new wines.
While Wisconsin isn’t known for its wine, Smith says that the state offers a strong market with signs of solid growth. “Most of the wineries I’ve gotten to are either expanding or looking to expand,” he says. “They’re actually running out of space.”
For all of his wine expertise, there is one question Smith struggles with. “I get asked [about my favorite wine] a lot. I wish I had one specific wine I could say is my go-to, but I don’t,” he says. “At the end of the day, the best wine you can get is the one you like.”
This story was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of On Wisconsin magazine.