HARLINGEN — From wine to water.
When Michael Mascha’s doctor told him he had to stop drinking wine after discovering he had a heart condition, he moved on to the next best thing — water.
“As a food anthropologist, food and wine was a big part of my life,” said Mascha, who lives about half the year in Harlingen and the rest in Los Angeles.
“So that was suddenly removed, and what do you do? You look at the next bottle on the table.”
Since choosing life and water, Vienna native Mascha has established himself as a high-profile water guru by applying the same concept of wine to water instead.
His website FineWaters.com is an online information bank of bottled water that connects consumers with bottlers of premium water around the world.
“The way I look at water, the way I provide that Epicurean context for bottled water is now the world standard,” he said. “I am not selling anything. I am selling you the idea and education of premium bottled water.”
Mascha differentiates between premium waters using measurable categories.
There are many variables that contribute to the taste of water. Those include things like mineral content and balance, the level of infused carbon dioxide. Connois-seurs look at a water’s orientation, which is the water’s pH level, its level or acidity or alkalinity. They also measure water hardness, the amount of calcium and magnesium in the water.
And they classify what they call “virginality,” which is a measure of how protected a water is from its surroundings as determined by its level of nitrate. Nitrate, found in such sources as fertilizer, may cause health problems if present in water in amounts greater than the drinking water standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
And don’t forget vintage, which can range from days to thousands of years.
“Water from an iceberg will taste different than water from rain,” he said.
As for a favorite type of water, he doesn’t have one.
“I like them all,” he said.
After growing up in Vienna, Mascha became interested in the anthropological study of food. He lived for years with his wife, Erika, in Fiji, after which he taught anthropology at the University of Southern California. He has also worked with the primatologist Jane Goodall.
An encounter with the pre-Netscape Internet in 1993 took him in another direction. He was co-founder of a successful information-technology company that was hit hard by the 2000 tech industry crash. So he founded another and cashed out in 2006 and left Los Angeles.
As to why he chose Harlingen to spend part of the year in, he said the area’s salt-water fly fishing was a big draw, as was the low cost of living.
“We wanted to live somewhere nice and warm,” he said.
“What I really enjoy is that like L.A. almost everyone you meet speaks a second language. I come down here and there is a big Hispanic culture and almost everyone speaks two languages.
“There are very few places in the United State where they are bilingual. There’s an awareness of people being other than themselves.”