March 27, 2012

Peer Review: The ‘Wine Guy’: Mark Nisbet grad Launches ‘5-Minute Wine School’

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If you can spare five minutes, Mark Nisbet grad can teach you how to make better wine.  A student in food science and technology, Nisbet has filmed a series of short instructional videos, collectively called “5 Minute Wine School,” on YouTube that cover wine analysis basics and explain the science behind fermentation.

Nisbet got the idea for the video from a popular short course that he took while at the New York State Experimental Station at Cornell’s Geneva campus. He wanted to make basic information about wine analysis more accessible to beginner and home winemakers.

Supported by a land grand fellowship from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences—which seeks to support projects that meet Cornell’s land grant mission—Nisbet has already released four videos. Topics he has covered so far include vineyard sampling and measuring pH and titratable acidity in wine. Nisbet tries to present what could be dry topics in an engaging way with the help of his cameraman Brent Fairbrother, “a friend, former colleague and creative visionary,” according to Nisbet.

For the videos, Nisbet and Fairbrother created a science nerd persona to liven up the clips.

“I envisioned him as Bill Nye the Science Guy meets Alton Brown meets Prof. Gavin Sacks, [food science],” Nisbet said.  In the videos his character sports retro safety goggles and a white lab coat. Nisbet relies on a bit of self-conscious science nerd humor to inject some fun into his chemistry-heavy films, he said

Currently a Ph.D. student in Prof. Anna Katharine Mansfield’s food science laboratory, Nisbet studies nitrogen content in grapes. “Nitrogen is one of the really important compounds for yeast growth, and it’s often the most limiting compound for growth,” Nisbet explained. He’s measured nitrogen content in grapes from 70 sites in N.Y. state, and is trying to understand how nitrogen levels affect flavor compounds that develop in aromatic white wines, like the Finger Lakes region’s darling, Riesling.

Nisbet is no stranger to Finger Lakes wine. He spent summers as a teenager working at his uncle’s winery, Glenora Wine Cellars, on Seneca Lake, first in the cellars and later in the tasting room. After completing a B.S. in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, he found his first job as a food scientist at IFN, a product development consulting company located in Ithaca. Six years later, he went back to school to learn more about wine.

As a student, Nisbet has continued to work on product development projects. Last year, he co-led a team whose product, Veggie3, took second place in a national competition.

“We developed a very unique freeze-dried technology for it and we filed a patent on it in February,” Nisbet said. The vegetable-based snack food was selected as a finalist for Cornell’s Biotechnology Institute’s Pre-Seed Workshop. The three-day workshop helps entrepreneurs refine their ideas and prepare a business plan prior to exploring becoming a start-up business.

While busy with his research and side projects, Nisbet hopes to launch at least five more videos before the end of the summer. Next week, he plans to release two videos of a three-part series on sulfur. His fellowship ends at the end of this semester. “I’m still going to be around for a while,” said Nisbet, with two years left in his degree, “so hopefully, for part of my extension duties, I can keep making videos.”

Click here to watch an intro to Nisbet’s “5-minute Wine School.”

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Original Author: Daina Ringus