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From Biomedical Studies to Winemaking

STUDENT FOCUS

By Kari Richards

Bingming Thum
Bingming Thum prepares egg whites for fining during January internship

Viticulture and Enology senior and Singapore native Bingming Thum credits passion for his seemingly unorthodox switch from biomedical studies to winemaking. Growing up as an internationally ranked competitive swimmer, Thum imagined an academic path of biology and research, starting at Cornell and leading to a medical field. Over time, though, a future in medicine no longer fit his vision.

"It was really more of a happenstance that I ended up in the major," he admits. "I was looking for a breadth of courses to take, and a friend recommended I try one of the viticulture and enology intro courses. Several courses later, I was hooked. I absolutely loved what I was learning and doing. My family was initially apprehensive, but after seeing how much I enjoyed it, they understood."

This passion has led him far afield from the enology and viticulture classrooms at Cornell. Last summer he was immersed in French language and culture, interning at a vineyard and winery in the Loire Valley of Menetou-Salon, an adventure he started with no prior language training. He says that although the internship in the tiny appellation was perhaps the most difficult thing he has ever done, it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences. Returning to campus for the fall semester, he worked part-time during the harvest with Phil Arras of Damiani Wine Cellars on Seneca Lake.

"We loved having him around," Arras said. "He was very knowledgeable and always brought an infectious enthusiasm to the work. Having an intern reignites your own passion and gives a fresh perspective."

Most recently, Thum worked over the January break at Napa Valley's custom crush, Bin to Bottle, under the guidance of Cornell alumnus John Wilkinson '79, a developer and managing partner. His jobs ranged from the high tech—reverse osmosis and cross flow filtration—to shoveling grape skins from a 15-ton tank, experiences he chronicled in his blog.

"In the short time we had, we put Ming through his paces around the winery," Wilkinson said. "He absorbed it all gladly and with enthusiasm."

As for the future, although Ming hopes to initially work in an English-speaking country, he'd someday like to own a chateau and vineyard.

His advice for students is simple: "Strive for your dreams and don't waste your university education. There is so much you can learn if you apply yourself and take the courses you are interested in rather than the courses that are simply easy to attend."

For the wine industry, he has only one question: "Does anyone have a job they need filled?"

Kari Richards is undergraduate coordinator for the Viticulture and Enology Program.