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Student Focus

Seniors Demonstrate Learning Through Capstone Projects

By Andrea Elmore

Lucy Goldberg '15 utilizing equipment the new Teaching Winery in Stocking Hall. Photo by Robyn Wishna.  

Upon graduation viticulture and enology seniors will be ready for any pursuit, thanks to capstone projects. 

Capstone projects are a culmination of work completed over the past year by seniors in Cornell’s Viticulture and Enology (V&E) major, and provide these soon-to-be graduates with an opportunity to expand upon the breadth of knowledge gained throughout their undergraduate studies.

Each spring these projects, first integrated into the major in 2010, demonstrate synthesis of knowledge across course requirements, and how that information can be applied to a real-life situation.  Students then showcase their work through a final presentation to students, staff, and faculty in the program.  

This year seniors chose topics in a diversity of areas, including original research in the vineyard or winery, in-depth examination of grape growing and winemaking techniques, winery design, and marketing. 

For example, Lucy Goldberg ’15 sought to answer several questions about spontaneous fermentations for her capstone project.  Goldberg monitored spontaneous fermentations at two different wineries to determine which microbes were present in these fermentations and at what concentrations. She also looked at the variance between wineries and grapes sourced from different vineyards to determine the relative impacts of winery and vineyard microflora on the microbial ecology of the fermentations. 

Marisa Sergi '15 tests her own wine, Redhead Wine.  Photo by Marisa Sergi.  

In addition, some projects that started small evolved into full-scale pursuits.  Initially a label design project for Marisa Sergi ‘15 turned into a comprehensive business plan.  Wanting to maximize her industry knowledge, Sergi seized an opportunity to transform a label for her California Zinfandel and Carmenere blend, called Redhead Wine, into a marketable product.  Her capstone project included winemaking, label design, marketing, and sales and distribution.

When first developing her wine, Sergi relied on several winemaking classes at Cornell, starting with the first-year Vines to Wines course, all the way up through the upper-level Winemaking Theory and Practice courses. 

“I now feel comfortable enough from working hands-on at Cornell to make my own wine,” said Sergi.  After graduating, Sergi will continue to hone her winemaking skills as a new product enologist at E&J Gallo Winery.

Also fully using the viticulture and enology major’s courses and facilities, Matt Murphy ’15 studied cider fermentation for his capstone project, a subject of great personal interest.

“I wanted to incorporate all the skills I learned from classes,” said Murphy.  “I am very passionate about winemaking, especially hard cider production, and wanted to do a hands on project.”

Matt Murphy '15 processing locally-sourced apples for his cider fermentation research.  Photo by Matt Murphy.  

Murphy’s goal was to determine the effects fermentation of single apple varieties and chaptalization (the addition of sugar pre-fermentation) will have on the sensory evaluation of a hard cider.  Murphy first harvested and pressed apples from the Cornell Orchards, and then continued with fermentation at the Teaching Winery in Stocking Hall.  Finally, he conducted a sensory test with students in the introductory viticulture and enology class, Vines to Wines.

Murphy determined that chaptalizing changed the aromatics and chemical components of each treatment.  These aromas, according to Murphy, include “Baked apple, green apple, and cooked sugar.” 

With an increase of chaptalization, ciders became more astringent and had higher concentrations of alcohol. Lower amounts of chaptalization resulted in the presence of green apple while higher amounts resulted with baked sugar aromatics.

While finishing touches may be completed just weeks before commencement, project planning starts during each student’s junior year.  Project ideas are discussed with viticulture and enology faculty, who provide guidance on crafting a project considering each student’s personal interests.  This leaves students prepared to fully engage in their project senior year.    

Enology lecturer Kathy Arnink has worked with several seniors on their projects, which she says is invaluable for graduates applying knowledge learned in the viticulture and enology program to any food system.

 “We [faculty] hope that students take what they have learned in coursework and apply it to an original and creative experience with their projects,” said Arnink.

Clearly this year has no shortage of creativity from seniors.  Now armed with a diverse range of theoretical and practical scientific knowledge, viticulture and enology graduates are equipped with lifelong problem-solving and decision-making skills that they can apply to the workforce and beyond.

Andrea Elmore is a student programs coordinator in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Food Science