A generator begins to run and the smell of fermenting grapes fills the air. Red-stained wooden barrels are propped up on one side of the room and cardboard boxes full of green bottles are stacked on the other.
Cal Poly wine and viticulture students stand in the Pilot Winery on the north side of campus as they watch their wine fill the glass bottles. After three months of working in the wine fermentation laboratory, the students are bottling Chardonnay and Merlot to take home for the holidays. Though these wines aren’t yet available for retail sale, a new permit and winemaking facility could soon change that.
On the other side of the room, wine and viticulture senior Will Talty corks the filled bottles. With one foot stabilizing the machine, Talty holds the bottle in his left hand and presses the lever down with his right, corking a bottle of Chardonnay.
“I’ve done this a few times before, but for a lot of people in my group, this is their first experience making wine. So it’s cool to do it on your own and make your own decisions,” Talty said.
Enology lecturer and Pilot Winery manager Jim Shumate said the groups from this class presented their wines at the end of fall quarter. They got to taste the other groups’ wines and talk about what they did differently.
“It’s fun to see how the different choices that each group made affected the same exact grapes. For a lot of these students, this is the first time they’ve seen something like this or made wine at all — so it’s great for them to be able to see and experience this and get to show it to their families for the holidays,” Shumate said.
This lab is one of the courses taken by wine and viticulture students concentrating in viticulture or wine business. The viticulture concentration teaches students about the wine grape production, while the wine business concentration teaches more about the wine industry.
Enology is the third concentration of wine and viticulture, which teaches students the science of winemaking and managing a winery. Wine business lecturer and Cal Poly Wine brand manager Adrienne Ferrara said these students will take a three-part winemaking class, developing and aging their wine throughout the school year.
Ferrara said the Cal Poly wine is a high-demand product that you can find online or in the student store downtown. She explained that the reason they are often sold out is because they only produce about 2,500 cases each year. She added that Cal Poly Wine doesn’t want to compete with the local industry, but instead provide a learning experience for students. The proceeds from their sales go back to student scholarships, activities for students and support for the department and students.
In the past, Cal Poly wine was made with the grapes from Trestle Vineyard – Cal Poly’s 12.5 acre on-campus vineyard. In 2014, the vines were no longer able to produce grapes, so they were pulled out and replanted. Enology professor Federico Casassa said they expect to have new grapes from the vineyard in the next few years that can be used to make not only the student-made wine, but also research wine and commercial Cal Poly wine.
Graphic by Andi Di Matteo
In addition, the department is gaining a new winery on campus called the Center for Wine and Viticulture, which will be breaking ground in 2018. Casassa said most college campuses with wine and viticulture programs already have an on-campus winery dedicated to teaching their students. What’s unique about this new facility on Cal Poly’s campus is that students will be able to create three different products — student wine, research wine and commercial wine.
What’s different about the Cal Poly Wine and the student made-wine produced on campus is that the commercial product is currently hosted at the Chamisal Vineyards on Orcutt Road. Ferrara explained that the student-made wine can only be gifted or donated because in the past Cal Poly did not have a permit to sell the wine they make on campus. However, she hopes that with the new permit they can be more entrepreneurial with the upcoming 2017 vintage that will be bottled in 2018.
With everything moving back on campus in the next few years, wine and viticulture students will get to use the grapes from Trestle Vineyard and create the wine at the Center for Wine and Viticulture. After months of hard work, they will not only share their product with their loved ones, but also get to see their finished wine sold on the shelf next to the commercial Cal Poly wine.