Daily Archives: February 26, 2014

What’s it like to take an Ivy League Class on…Wine?

One of the benefits of being a CALS and AEM student is the flexibility that the requirements provide–and that’s not something I’ve taken for granted at all. Case in point: As a second semester senior that was interested in experimenting with a new academic field, and knew very little about wine, I recently signed up for VIEN 1104: Introduction to Wines and VinesMessages(There is a Hotel wine class as well, which is generally larger.) Let me tell you about my experiences in the course, as it’s definitely been a unique experience!

I’ll start off by saying that if you think this is a course that students take simply to get drunk in class, you’d be sorely mistaken. If anything, students like that would be weeded out pretty quickly–as we’re only a few weeks in, and it’s been a pretty comprehensive introduction to wine principles and grapegrowing. In fact, many of the students in the class have experience in vineyard management! Topics covered so far have included the history of wine production, fermentation, and sensory evaluation. (Who knew there were so many ways that grapes could grow?)

And yes, there are regular wine tastings in class! And not an insignificant amount is being poured. As we bring 4 wine glasses to class every day, the TA’s come around a few times per lecture to fill each one up a little less than halfway. I’vewineslide really been surprised by the diversity of wine flavors and aromas that exist based on the type of winegrapes and how they’re grown–and have sampled firsthand beverages with aromas that students have described as fruity, bitter, spicy, and similar to “cat pee” (yes, that’s a thing). Those that aren’t 21, or those that aren’t in the mood to drink, don’t have to–it just improves the classroom experience. Additionally, there’s no shame in tasting then spitting. What you are not allowed to do, however, is wear excessive perfume/cologne: this understandably affects “your and your neighbors’ sensory perceptions of wines” (from the syllabus).

Something cool I’ve learned in Wines and Vines is that wine perception varies a fair amount based on the individual, due to the uniqueness of each person’s senses. Whenever we do a tasting, it’s usually followed by an I-Clicker Messages-1multiple choice survey question that asks what we thought of the beverage, or to compare it to another one. Seeing how the class reacted to a particular drink, compared to your own opinion, is pretty neat.

So how’s the experience been overall? Great. Despite being at night near the Vet School (quite the walk from Collegetown), This is the quintessentially great Cornell course. Why? Because it’s on a subject matter that I have no experience in, but thanks to the well-designed course and passionate professors, has sparked my interest in the field. Will I be an expert viticulturist one day? Probably not…but at least I’ll be able to carry with me an interest in viticulture and enology for the rest of my life.

One quite literal “take-away” from the class are some cool Cornell CALS wine glasses that we were able to buy (as pictured). Hopefully I’ll be able to put ’em to use regularly after the course is over. Heck, maybe if my business career allows for it down the road, I’ll be able to move to Napa Valley, buy a few acres of land and apply what I’ve learned in the class!