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The fine art of spitting: Allowing underage students to taste alcohol

Wine samples ready for tasting at UC Davis. (photo: Ann Filmer / UC Davis)
California's drinking age of 21 prohibits many undergraduate students from learning critical skills early in their academic careers — sensory skills that they will need when they move on to jobs in the multimillion-dollar winemaking, brewing, and food industries.

Not until students turn 21 can they taste the wine and beer they make and learn to assess its sensory quality. Learning the characteristics of a wide assortment of good (and not-so-good) wines and beers is an important component of winemaking and brewing. Having to wait until their junior or senior year to learn these skills is a disadvantage for these students.

Legislation (AB 1989) has been proposed by California Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-North Coast) that will allow students, ages 18 to 21, enrolled in winemaking and brewery science programs to taste alcoholic beverages in qualified academic institutions. The students can taste, but not consume — which means they must learn the professional practice of spitting during the tasting process.

Professor Andrew Waterhouse, an enologist in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, notes that tasting is critical to the students' education.

“Winemakers taste wine daily during harvest to quickly make critical decisions as the winemaking is underway,” Waterhouse said. “Our students need to start learning this skill here, with our guidance. And, they also have to get over the embarrassment of spitting — after every taste.”

Chik Brenneman, the UC Davis winemaker, said that the bill, if passed, “will allow students to move on to the sensory program a lot sooner, before they've finished most of their winemaking classes. Earlier sensory training will help them when they go to work in the industry.”

A student, over age 21, testing wine at UC Davis. (photo: John Stumbos / UC Davis)
Waterhouse said in an interview with NBC Bay Area, “If you don't have the experience of what wine tastes like as it's being made, then you're completely missing a critical skill, which you then have to learn on the job.”

If the legislation passes, it will benefit enology and brewing students at UC Davis, which is the only University of California campus to offer undergraduate degrees in viticulture and enology and in brewing science (an option within the food science major).

While parents of college students may worry that the bill will open the door to widespread drinking, Waterhouse and Brenneman both noted that the focus of the bill is so narrow that its impact will benefit a limited number of students, and that it's unlikely to lead to excessive drinking. They say that the over-21 students routinely spit what they're tasting in a standard industry manner, and that “drinking” in class is not a problem.

With passage of this bill, which is backed by the University of California, the state will join 12 other states that have allowed this educational exemption for students.

Read more:

Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 8:38 AM
Tags: alcohol (2), Andrew Waterhouse (2), beer (3), brewing (1), Chik Brenneman (1), enology (4), students (1), UC Davis (3), viticulture (4), wine (27)

Local collaboration is one secret behind excellent Napa Valley wine

Napa Valley has a worldwide reputation for producing superior wines.
One reason the Napa County wine industry is so successful is its commitment to working together, wrote Paul Franson in an op-ed piece that ran in the Napa Valley Register today. Franson credits frequent industry meetings in the area, where a wealth of information on grape growth and wine production are offered.

A recent meeting he cited was a field day last month in which John Roncoroni, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Napa County, took two groups through the Huichica Creek Demonstration Vineyard in Carneros to teach attendees how to identify weeds that commonly occur in vineyards.

Other local organizations that bring together local grape and wine producers are the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner's office, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group and the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.

"It’s no wonder that Napa Valley growers get the highest prices for their grapes in the state. They learn how to grow the grapes better," Franson wrote.

Posted on Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8:49 AM
Tags: John Roncoroni (1), Napa County (1), wine (27)

A 'spectacular' year for Mendocino County winegrape growers

Glenn McGourty, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Mendocino County, predicted 2012 will be a wonderful vintage in the North Coast wine region, reported the Ukiah Daily Journal.

"We kind of wish every year could be like that. There was enough water, practically no frost protection needed, and no mold, mildew or rot on the fruit," he said. McGourty told reporter Justine Frederickson he usually finds growers to be pessimistic when they begin harvest, but that wasn't the case in 2012. "I even saw one of them break into a smile," he said.

This winter, the grapevines have been enjoying a much-deserved slumber, particularly with the recent cold snap.

"They like it," McGourty said of the frigid temperatures, adding that the prolonged cold weather in the Ukiah Valley the first half of January is not likely to cause damage.

"The vines are pretty tough," McGourty said. "They can take a lot of cold, and they can go underwater for weeks (without problems), unless there's any foliage."

wine for sale
wine for sale

Posted on Friday, January 25, 2013 at 8:37 AM
Tags: Glenn McGourty (2), Mendocino (1), wine (27)

Farewell corks? Screw caps may outshine corks in wine quality

While many of us cherish the mystique of popping a wine cork, screw caps are becoming more commonplace in the wine industry. Half a century ago, screw caps were associated with cheap rotgut wine, but now they have replaced corks in many premium wines and at many of the world’s best wineries.

Wine bottles are sealed primarily in three ways — natural corks, synthetic corks or screw caps. All have their advantages and disadvantages, and most certainly their proponents and opponents. While synthetic corks never gained much of a foothold in the wine industry, screw caps are being studied more frequently for their efficacy and quality.

While screw caps were originally thought to be airtight, resulting in the unpleasant aroma of hydrogen sulfide inside some sealed wine bottles, screw caps have been developed with different levels of permeability. Most aluminum Stelvin caps are lined with a polyvinylidene chloride–tin foil combination (Saran-Tin), or a polyvinylidene chloride–polyethylene mix (Saranex); each yielding different permeabilities, and chemical and taste profiles in the wine.

Research is weighing the value of screw caps on wine quality and consumers’ ability to taste differences in wine bottled with a cork or a screw cap.

Professor Andrew Waterhouse, UC Davis wine chemist
A new UC Davis study spearheaded by wine chemist Andrew Waterhouse, professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology, is examining Sauvignon Blanc wine quality during aging, and consumers’ ability to taste differences such as oxidation in wine capped with natural cork, synthetic cork or screw caps. The UC Davis research team includes John Boone, a radiologist, and David Fyhrie, a biomedical engineer — both professors in the UC Davis School of Medicine — who will work with Waterhouse to analyze the corks, the wine color and oxidation of the wine.

The study, which will be completed next year, is not touted to give a definitive answer to the best type of wine closure, but it will, according to Waterhouse, give winemakers reliable information on which to judge the type of closure that works best on their wines. (Watch Waterhouse explain the study in a video.)

An earlier study at Oregon State University, and reported in ScienceNews, said that consumers could not discern a difference in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines capped with natural corks or screw caps.

Perhaps what merits future study is the type of linings in screw caps. As screw caps continue to gain a foothold in the wine industry, it’s reasonable to assume that additional research on cap linings will produce additional options for winemakers, resulting in high-quality wines with greater longevity.

Based on research studies and wine experts’ judgments, here are some advantages and disadvantages of different types of wine closures:

Natural Corks:

  • Traditionalists claim that "real" corks allow healthy gas exchange for flavorful wine
  • Some claim that good sources of natural cork are dwindling
  • Not all natural corks are alike, resulting in variable cork properties
  • Higher chance of “corked” wines and trichloranisole (TCA) taint

Synthetic Corks:

  • Considered expensive and unpopular with consumers
  • Many synthetic corks let too much air into the wine bottle
  • They’re often difficult to remove from the bottle, and to re-cork the bottle

Screw Caps:

  • Less chance that wines will be “corked,” and probably fewer tainted wines
  • Some say that air-tight screw caps are “suffocating” to wines

 

Read more:

  1. Corks and screw caps? Can wine consumers taste the variation? UC Davis study
  2. Wine corks are going: the screwcaps are winning. HubPages
  3. Cap or cork, it’s the wine that matters most. ScienceNews
  4. Great wines under cork and screw cap. Forbes
  5. Corks vs. screwcaps. Total Wine & More
  6. Chateau Margaux corks a problem with a screw cap. The Wall Street Journal
  7. 7. Cork vs. screw cap: what’s all the fuss about? Imbibe Liquid Culture
Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 9:16 AM
Tags: Andrew Waterhouse (2), corks (1), David Fyhrie (1), John Boone (1), screw caps (1), UC Davis (3), wine (27), wine quality (1)

Vintner creates interesting new wines from research grapes

Winegrapes growing at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Nearly half of the 55 unusual winegrape varieties in a plot at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier displayed enough promising characteristics to prompt a cooperating vintner to make 25 small lots of wine.

The research at Kearney is designed to expand the wine industry’s options in the San Joaquin Valley, currently California’s top grape growing district in terms of production, but lowest in terms of price.

“Most of the popular wine varietals – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay – are at their best in somewhat cooler climates. So we are looking for grapes that make superior fruit in warm climates,” said Matthew Fidelibus, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis.

Fidelibus is supervising the production at Kearney of winegrape varieties that were collected from countries such as Spain, Greece and Italy, where the climate mimics the valley’s hot days and warm evenings. In the research plot, the vines exhibit a wide range of vigor, productivity and fruit quality.

While Fidelibus is gathering data on each variety’s yield potential, cluster architecture, amenability to mechanization and other viticultural characteristics, winemaker Constellation Brands is monitoring the winegrapes’ potential to produce distinctive, flavorful California wines.

“We need a breakthrough variety,” said Oren Kaye, a research and development winemaker at Constellation Brands. “Many of the wines we produced showed significant promise.”

Currently, 80 percent of California wine is made from fewer than 10 types of winegrapes, with the most popular white being Chardonnay and the most popular red Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Kaye says the market is ripe for something new, perhaps Fianio, a white wine with a fresh, young style evoking flavors of melon and grapefruit, or the stylistically unique Marselan Noir, a red wine with bright cherry flavor that pops.

“Millennials own tomorrow,” Kaye said. “They are more accepting of things that are new, as long as it is good. At a restaurant, they think nothing of pulling out a smart phone to look up a wine they haven’t heard of before.”

Fidelibus comments in the video below about a recent tasting event that featured four winegrape varieties from the Kearney trial:

Posted on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 9:38 AM
Tags: Matthew Fidelibus (1), wine (27)

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