Leigh Schmidtke is the perfect plus one at a fancy dinner party.
A nationally certified wine connoisseur, he will always be able to pick the best vintage on the menu.
"When people ask me what makes a good wine, I always say to them, it's the wine you like that's the best," Professor Schmidtke said.
Based at Wagga's Charles Sturt University campus, he is the Director of the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre, and himself responsible for creating a new generation of wine experts.
Since 2011, he has guided 14 PhD students and is currently assisting several more.
In collaboration with the Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production, his decade of contributions to viticulture has been recognised with a 2020 Australian Council of Graduate Research (ACGR) awards.
Professor Schmidtke is quick to point out that his job "sounds much more glamourous than it is".
"It's not just sitting around tasting wine, we don't often do a lot of that," he said.
"It's mostly research and training scientists to understand [viticulture] methods.
"A lot of the work is in understanding varying climates and how that impacts the wine. How can we alter the culture or the vineyard management to help adapt to a changing climate?"
Conducting experiments in the form of vine manipulations, his team of PhD researchers are looking to understand how extreme weather patterns impact taste through the grapes.
"It sounds technical, and it is, but we need these specially trained experts to have rigour and validity," he said.
In light of the recent bushfire events across the region, state and continent, Professor Schmidtke recognises that his work has never had more significance.
"In some cases in particular around areas in NSW and Victoria, there will be a significant deleterious effect to the grapes [from the fires]," he said.
"The uptake of the smoke translates into the wine. But having said that, there will still be some great wines this year."
But, at the very least, this year's unprecedented fire season has also promoted good grounds for academic research.
"If we can get a good understanding of what the effects are from these events, we can mitigate some of the problems and enable viticulturists to bring up a crop that will be financially viable," Professor Schmidtke said.
"This is exactly why we need the experts, to future-proof, adapt and understand how to improve what we have, or make something acceptable from the challenging circumstances."