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Cornell Students Complete First Vintage at New Winery

By Kathleen Arnink
Senior Lecturer in Enology, Department of Food Science

Winemaking Class
From left to right: Victoria Mariani, Eric Misiewicz, Johnston Moore, Diane Schmitt, and instructor Kathy Arnink compare wines as part of the Undergraduate V&E Research Practices course.

From left to right: Victoria Mariani, Eric Misiewicz, Johnston Moore, Diane Schmitt, and instructor Kathy Arnink compare wines as part of the Undergraduate V&E Research Practices course.

This fall, a group of Cornell undergraduates became the first to learn the science and art of winemaking in the new College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Teaching Winery at the Cornell Orchards.

Students in two courses in the Viticulture and Enology major, Microbiology and Technology of Winemaking and Undergraduate V&E Research Practices, persevered through a challenging growing season to ferment a range of varieties—Pinot Gris, Cayuga White, Traminette, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Corot Noir, and Dechaunac.

Graduate students also used the winery for test fermentations of grapes from their research plots. All of the grapes were harvested from two Cornell vineyards—one at Cornell Orchards that consists of hybrid wine grapes, and another 10 miles north of campus close to the winter warmth of Cayuga Lake, consisting mostly of vinifera grapes.

The 2009 growing season challenged students in many ways. It was cool and wet, which delayed varietal ripeness and required students to sample frequently and make timely harvest decisions in the vineyard. The need to harvest and ferment within a 14-week semester also confronts students with critical decisions and trade-offs. These are opportunities help students learn the challenges of growing grapes and making wine in the Finger Lakes and other cool-climate regions, as they learn to make consistently good finished wines from grapes that vary from year to year.

Students harvested and fermented hybrid and Pinot Noir grapes as part of a New York Farm Viability Institute project to evaluate carbonic and skin maceration. Other treatments evaluated included harvest timing, skin contact, yeast strains, and malolactic fermentation. Students worked in small groups on these wines and were responsible for determining treatment conditions for each grape variety and performing all necessary production and analytical steps.

In order to explore alternative vinification methods without producing excess quantities of wines, students fermented wines in small lots of 5 to 20 gallons. All of the wines are used for chemical, microbiological, and sensory analyses. One of the benefits of the teaching winery is the chance for students to use unblended treatments that are difficult to find commercially.

The fall 2009 courses concluded with student presentations on their procedures for making each wine and important analytical data obtained, followed by sensory evaluation and discussion by students in each class.

Wines fermented by students during the fall 2009 semester are stabilizing in a cold room at the winery, until students return in January to complete this vintage. In the spring semester, students will continue crafting their wines during a sequel enology course—Winemaking Theory and Practices II. This two-semester approach enables students to experience viticulture and enology from the determination of harvest date through vinification, stabilization, fining, blending, and ultimately bottling.

The CALS Teaching Winery and adjacent vineyards, on Cornell's main campus in Ithaca, provide Viticulture and Enology students with hands-on experience in all aspects of grape growing and winemaking. The winery has also become a social hub and focal point for students to interact with faculty and learn the techniques to become leading winemakers and grape growers in New York and beyond.