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Students produce first wines at campus teaching winery

For the first time, Cornell students have produced wines -- big reds and whites -- at the Viticulture and Enology program's new, state-of-the-art million-dollar teaching winery on campus, the only university facility of its kind in the eastern United States.

"The beauty of the teaching winery is that we get more hands-on experience," said Mari Rossi '11, a student in the program. "It's almost like our labs that we do in the teaching winery are mini internships, because everything that we learn with hands-on experience helps us realize which parts of the industry we are most passionate about."

In fall 2008, Cornell established a major in viticulture and enology -- grape growing and winemaking; in 2009, Cornell's teaching winery officially opened.

This past school year students worked with grapes from fall harvest to spring bottling. Students began tasting and monitoring grapes for harvest last September and moved onto crushing, pressing and fermentation through October and November in lecturer Kathy Arnink's fall classes, Microbiology and Technology of Winemaking and Undergraduate Viticulture and Enology Research Practices.

In the spring, students fined (clarified), blended, balanced, stabilized and eventually bottled their vintages in Ramòn Mira de Orduña's spring class, Wine Making Theory and Practices II. Each group of two to four students made a red and white wine.

"The whole class hears about the procedure each group followed, and evaluates the wines at the end of each class," Arnink said. "Wines last year included Pinot Gris, Cayuga White, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Lemberger, Corot Noir and DeChaunac. Each variety was produced using more than one vinification method, so the results of different winemaking practices can be evaluated."

Students "vinified both dry wines as well as sweet wines -- all across the range," added Mira de Orduña, associate professor of enology.

"The New York wine industry has been growing rapidly since the late 1970s," said Ian Merwin, professor of horticulture, noting that more than 250 wineries have opened in the state in the last 35 years. "The need for well-trained and creative leaders to support and guide that industry was a key factor in the formation of Cornell's grape and wines program."

The new winery features destemmers, presses, temperature-controlled rooms and other equipment necessary for small-scale winemaking. The horticulture department also manages a vineyard at Cornell Orchards, which grows hybrid grape varieties, and a vineyard in Lansing next to Cayuga Lake. Students majoring in viticulture and enology now experience every stage of the winemaking process through their coursework, from grape growing and harvesting, to bottling the finished product.

Were the students permitted to taste their final products?

"There is a New York state law that permits under-21 students to taste small quantities of wines or beers under the direct supervision of instructors in courses that are required for students to complete their undergraduate degrees," said Merwin.

"Tasting must be part of the overall winemaking experience," said David Bower III '11. "The taste buds can sometimes be a much better tool than anything in a laboratory. Being able to pick the grapes, crush them, ferment them, produce the wine, fine the wine, filter, bottle and taste the wine gives the whole experience of what winemaking really is."

"For our experiment, we did a blind taste test," said Victoria Mariani '10. "Because we were so familiar with the wines, I was able to identify them. I felt really proud to see the wine finally make it into the bottle."

Molly Cronin '11 is a student intern in the Department of Communication.

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