Cal Poly opens new center for wine and viticulture: ‘A head start on a great career’

During fall quarter, students began making Cal Poly wines and research wines entirely from scratch for the first time in the new JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture.

The entirely donor-funded facility, which officially opened Winter 2022, is comprised of the 15,600 square-foot Lohr Family Winery and the 12,000 square-foot E. & J. Gallo Building, each furnished with industry-grade equipment and technology. 

“We use the same or similar size and type of equipment and procedures as many other wineries in the area,” winery manager Jim Shumate said. “This better prepares our students to go to work at a winery as soon as they graduate.”

The facility not only includes barrel rooms, a fermentation hall, a sensory lab and an advanced chemistry lab, but it also essentially houses three wineries in one.

The three separate wineries found included in the facility include a commercial winery, a teaching winery and a research winery. Though each winery is in the same building, the tanks for each are located in different areas. 

While each one serves a different overall purpose, they all foster the hands-on education of wine and viticulture students, associate enology professor Federico Casassa said. 

Student interns work alongside Casassa and Shumate in the commercial commercial tanks to make Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Pinot Noir using grapes from Cal Poly’s very own Trestle Vineyard. 

Though the facility is bonded for 5,000 cases, they will likely only produce around 2,000 cases of wine to be distributed locally.

Students engage in hands-on learning experience at the new JUSTIN and J. Lohr Center for Wine and Viticulture. Credit: Shae Ashamalla / Mustang News Credit: Shae Ashamalla / Mustang News

The student interns began working on the commercial wine in August, processing about 30 tons of grapes before classes started. 

“They have done all the winemaking procedures including sorting, destemming, inoculations and other chemical additions, monitoring of the fermentation, doing pumpovers and punchdowns daily during fermentation, pressing of the fruit after fermentation is complete and putting the wine into barrels,” Shumate said. 

Students who make wine in the teaching tanks are enrolled in the advanced winemaking series, a set of three classes dedicated to allowing students to participate in every aspect of the winemaking process from harvest to bottling. 

“The beauty with this facility is that we have the ability to demonstrate things on site now,” Casassa said. “They get the theory, but they also get the practice here in the winery.”

According to wine and viticulture senior Taylor Robertson, who is the undergraduate research assistant at the winery, the facility also gets in a lot of fruit from local vineyards that are used solely for research wines not available to the general public.

In the research tanks, participating undergraduate and graduate students test out several different winemaking techniques to see how they affect the aroma, mouthfeel and flavor of a wine.

The wine and viticulture program at Cal Poly is the largest of its kind in the nation and is supported by many local wineries. 

Many wineries, including high-end wineries, often contact the department seeking to hire students because of the advanced hands-on education they receive. 

“The new winery provides Cal Poly students with a great learning opportunity,” Shumate said. “Having one of the most advanced wineries of any university in the country gives our students a head start on a great career in the wine industry.”