Scientist takes on THE GRAPE

Cynthia Lund exercises her wine tasting abilities recently at Great Pacific Wine & Coffee Co.<br><I>Staff photo by Kathy Aney

Cynthia Lund grasped the stem of her wine glass with three fingers and swirled the liquid inside. She brought the glass to her nose and breathed in the scent.

Finally, she tasted.

"It's a milder Sauvignon blanc," Lund said. "It has a nice nose with possibly a bit of oak in it."

Lund, who exudes intellectual curiosity and has an easy laugh, explained that the weighty molecular makeup of oak gives the wine structure in the mouth, but also takes away some of the fruity characteristics.

This day, Lund sat in a booth at the Great Pacific Wine & Coffee tasting a Northwest Sauvignon blanc just for fun. The Pendleton native, an international food scientist, typically uses her sensory perceptions in a more professional realm, working with New Zealand's wine and olive oil industries. She is two years into an Oregon wine industry study that pitted corks against screw tops.

This November, Lund judged an international wine competition in Mendoza, Argentina, where she tasted about 150 wines over four days. The only American on the seven-person panel, she and her tasting cohorts sampled multiple varieties.

"We tasted all types of wine - Cabernet, Sauvignon blanc, Torrontes, Malbec, sparkling wines and even spirits," Lund said. "We didn't know the variety, only the vintage, sugar level and alcohol content."

The invitation to judge came after Lund spent six years helping New Zealand's wine industry promoteits most prominent export wine - Sauvignon blanc.

Lund, a 1980 Pendleton High School graduate, developed an interest in all things scientific early on. Her father, Steve Lund, plant breeder and director of Oregon State University experiment stations in Pendleton, Hermiston and Morrow County, stoked her interest.

Armed with undergraduate and master's degrees in sensory and consumer science, she started at Oregon Freeze Dry in Albany, helping develop new bread products.

Lund then took a U-turn to pure science, working with another company to develop replacements for antibiotics. Later, she jumped off into the consulting world.

Everything was going swimmingly, when her husband Emile Gaiera shook everything up.

"He must have had his mid-life crisis," Lund said, smiling. "He came home and asked, 'Why don't we move overseas?'"

After some investigation and exploration, the couple and their young daughter moved to Auckland, New Zealand, where Cynthia worked for a research company called HortResearch as a sensory and consumer scientist.

As one of her duties, she trained a panel of people to taste Sauvignon blanc, which makes up around 70 percent of New Zealand's wine exports. She screened her candidates for gustatory abilities, odor identification and ability to describe smells and tastes.

The two senses are inextricably intertwined. Without the sense of smell, Lund said, a person has trouble distinguishing an apple from a potato.

"They say 70 to 95 percent of the flavor experience is odor," Lund said.

Women, as a group, have more olfactory acuity, said Lund. "I always say 'Women smell better.'"

Under Lund's direction, the panelists assisted winemakers and others in the wine industry recognize how consumers perceive wines and help them understand consumer purchasing behaviors.

Her company paid for Lund to pursue her doctoral degree at the University of Auckland where she further researched which characteristics wine drinkers appreciate most.

It's an elusive goal.

Certain flavor components can mask or accentuate other aroma compounds, she said. Seemingly-nasty smells such as sweat, barnyard and cat's pee can be positive descriptors when paired with fruity aromas. Larger chemical components, such as tannins and polyphenols contribute to mouth feel and can influence the smell intensity.

Then there's the emotional component.

"Studies show the more we spend on wine, the more we enjoy it," Lund said. "It stimulates the pleasure part of our brain."

Lund also trained panels to test olive oil. She judged olive oils for "New Zealand Consumer Magazine" and was head judge in this year's ONZ Olive Oil awards. She helped establish New Zealand's first internationally accredited olive oil panel in 2006.

Lund offered some quick advice to American olive oil buyers.

"Avoid buying olive oil in a clear bottle," she advised. "The things that contribute to rancidity are heat, light and oxygen and light is the most damaging."

The best manufacturers print the date the oil is processed, not the bottling date. Olive oil only keeps for two years after pressing, she said. Bottling, however, can occur anytime after pressing even after the oil has gone rancid. Rancid oil has none of the great health benefits for which olive oil is known.

During her off time, Lund and her family enjoyed New Zealand's glaciers, volcanoes, mountains, fjords and hot water beaches. They ogled sperm whales and kiwi birds and enjoy the country's diversity.

"You can ski, fish and surf all in the same day," she said.

One and half years ago, the family left New Zealand and moved back to the U.S. to be closer to family, including Lund's parents, Steve and Grace Lund of Pendleton.

Most recently, Lund was involved with an ongoing study investigating the cork versus the screw cap as a better way to preserve wine quality. The project is a collaboration among Oregon State University, the Food Innovation Center and the Oregon wine industry. Two years in, she said, there seems to be little difference between corks and caps in maintaining quality.

Last week, Lund started a new job last week as a creative leader at Cargill's Horizon Milling in Portland.

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