David – Associate Professor in Wine Science

Who are you?

Hi there! I’m David Jeffery, the Associate Professor in Wine Science at The University of Adelaide, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine

How did you get into this job?

I studied for 7 years at university to obtain undergraduate degrees and a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry.

That knowledge and experience led to my first job as a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), where I learnt all about grape and wine chemistry.

I progressed through several positions at AWRI and after almost six years I was successful in obtaining a Lecturer position at The University of Adelaide. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer and then Assoc. Prof.

What do you actually do?

I conduct chemical research on grapes and wines, which mostly relates to developing analytical methods for various components (volatiles – aroma compounds, and non-volatiles – colour, taste, and mouthfeel compounds) using chromatographic instruments coupled to a mass spectrometer. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

The overall aim is to relate chemical composition (from analysis) to sensory attributes (that people perceive when tasting wine) and to investigate ways to evaluate wine quality by conducting winemaking trials to target specific wine styles or outcomes (e.g., lower alcohol wines).

At times the work involves synthesising compounds that are not commercially available and requires testing of new methods in different wines (or grape juices) to make sure they work well in various matrices.

Good quality quantitative data is important when evaluating the outcomes of our experiments.

This is an amazing piece of kit where a human (e.g., me) becomes one of the detectors, using the sense of smell. As volatile components are separated in the gas phase they elute and a portion goes to a mass spectrometer and another portion goes to the sniff port. That way we can get mass spectral information for qualitative/quantitative analysis and simultaneously be able to smell the compounds coming out of the instrument, describing their aromas. Pretty cool I reckon.

What type of building (or otherwise) do you work in?

I work in a building that consists of offices for academic staff, an open plan office area for research students (Honours, Masters, PhD) and laboratories for conducting synthetic and analytical chemistry work.

We also have winemaking equipment, microbiology labs and a purpose built sensory lab.

I visit vineyards or wineries during “vintage” to collect grape/wine samples with my students.

I also work with industry partners on different research projects and teach winemaking students.

What STEM disciplines are involved with your work?

Science is at the core of the work but it’s multidisciplinary and involves chemistry, biology, and sensory. It also requires mathematics, specifically statistics and multivariate data analysis.

What other STEM People do you work with?

Those with expertise in bioinformatics, photonics, machine learning, and chemical engineering.

What does a typical day for you look like?

A typical day involves some or many of the following: meetings (with other staff, industry stakeholders, or my students), marking assignments and exams, reading published papers, reading/writing/editing our own publications, peer-reviewing other authors’ papers, preparing to go to/attending a conference, planning lessons and courses, participating in wine sensory assessments, preparing lecture presentations, attending research talks, answering (or deleting) a stack of emails, editing my students’ literature reviews or final theses, signing forms, managing staff, looking at budgets and dealing with financial transactions.

What do you like best about your work?

The freedom is awesome. As long as I am doing a good job with teaching and research then I’m pretty much left alone to do things how (and when) I want.

A very rewarding aspect is seeing people achieve (whether that’s undergrads learning new things or postgrad research students creating new knowledge) and being part of their successes.

Being able to travel to different parts of the world to present my work at conferences and network with other researchers is also an amazing benefit of the job.

What do you like least about your work?

It takes a lot of effort and time to really excel.

Lot’s of competing priorities and responsibilities that keep me away from home or preoccupied when I’m at home.

Dumb paperwork and admin stuff is annoying and takes me away from what I love – doing cool science.

What advice would you have for a high school student considering a career in the STEM field?

Do it.

One of the few types of jobs where you are paid to undertake something you are passionate about (I’d do science for free – they need to pay me to put up with the other bs that comes along with the job!).

There are so many (really enjoyable) employment options and only STEM professionals will be equipped to come up with solutions in the future that literally save human kind from disasters of our own making.

Weird Smells…

I work with volatile sulfur compounds, which can be amazingly potent. Some have made my sweat and even my urine really stink (along the lines of asparagus pee).

This would be from miniscule amounts that I’ve breathed in and my body has metabolised them into something else that stinks differently (or sometimes the same) as the compounds I was working with.

Volatile sulfur compound aromas can range from hideous (rotten eggs, dead things, sewage) to very nice (passionfruit, grapefruit) – it depends on the structure and concentration.

For Those Students Doing The Winemaking Experiment, Here’s Some Advice From The Pro

Tips and tricks for winemaking hey. Where to start.

Cleanliness, healthy fruit, temperature control, enough nutrients (diammonium phosphate is used by winemakers), inoculation with a nice wine yeast, clarification at various stages, pH control (acidity keeps other microbes down – winemakers add tartaric acid), oxygen control (no headspace in containers etc, careful transfer of liquids without splashing – depends on red vs white winemaking though), use of antioxidants like sulfite.

These are all simple things the home winemaker can do.