Saturday, September 5, 2020

Drunk on Chemistry - Elements Cabernet

The next up in our Drunk on Geology series is Elements Cabernet Sauvignon by Artesa Winery

Elements are the building blocks to everything that we see around us. And understanding them helps us to understand the properties of all matter. When looking back at the history of the elements, identifying what the original elements were is a common theme that runs through many cultures in our past including the Greeks, Japanese, and Hindus.

Text from the back of the bottle:
"Elements Wines symbolize the philosophy that when the five basic elements are in balance, harmony exists, Metal: the minerality in the soil, Water: for the vines, Wood: the vines themselves, Fire, the sun that ripens the grapes, and Earth, the soil."

Now, obviously, we no longer believe in the four (or five) basic elements. But that wasn't always the case. Starting around 450 BCE, the Greeks originally thought there were only four elements: earth, fire, air, and water. Later added to by Aristotle a fifth element, aether, to represent materials in the stars. By the Middle Ages these four (or five) elements started to be expanded upon because the typical earth = solid, water = liquid, air = gas, and fire = "plasma", didn't conform to everything that they were seeing. Mercury is a classic example of a "earth" that is also a liquid. So they added a few more elements: quicksilver (Mercury), salt, and brimstone (sulphur); elements that didn't "fit" into their view of the world.

The image on the bottle not only represents a bunch of wine bottles stacked on top of each other but could also represent the layering of the original elements; Earth on the bottom, Metal in the middle, Air and Water on top. 

Over time more elements were discovered. By 1787, 33 elements were known and a classification system was starting to be developed for them. By 1817 it was known that elements could be arranged into groups by similar properties, which ended up aligning their weights as well. But it wasn't until 1869 that a Russian chemistry professor by the name of Dimitri Ivanovich Mendeleev organized the then 63 elements into a classification system known as the Periodic Table of Elements. He organized them by increasing atomic weight with spaces left for undiscovered elements, which he had predicted. His organization scheme was not his invention alone, but was the culmination of much work by many scientists over time.

Mendeleev's original Periodic Table of Elements from his 63 elements. Image from

The "periods" in his Periodic Table related to the fact that as you went through the elements systematically, various properties appeared periodically in repeating patterns. Mendeleev initially organized his periods vertically, where elements with similar properties ended up in rows. This was eventually flipped in the modern day Periodic Table. Over time, as more elements were discovered the gaps that Mendeleev left were eventually filled in. It was these gaps and structure that were initially included within the table that allowed to table to live, breathe, and expand into a structure that is as useful and valid today as it was the day it was first compiled.

In the modern day periodic table, we now organize the elements by their number of protons (the number at the top of each element in the table below). While the weights that Mendeleev initially used are important, it was discovered that they were not as much a defining characteristic of the elements like the number of protons. Each element can have varying weights depending on the number of neutrons, but the number of protons is consistent for each element. 
Modern day Period Table of Elements with 118 elements. Image from the National Library of Medicine

So, just like the Divining Rod Chardonnay previously, understanding where our science has come from helps us better to understand it in general. From these base "elements" we found that matter is made up of lots of different elements, which in turn helped Mendeleev develop the Periodic Table of the Elements and eventually lead to our modern day understanding of the world around us.


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