Get Expert Winemaking Advice on Web

Industry support builds UC Davis online outreach with classes and free access

by Kerry Kirkham
UC Davis wine flavor class
Wine Flavor classes present a broad spectrum of scenarios that the average winemaker might not experience elsewhere.
Davis, Calif.—A free interactive website to supply grapegrowing and winemaking advice and instruction is now live. Available to anyone with Internet access, Enology Access is a new tool from VENSource, which provides outreach from the University of California, Davis, Department of Viticulture and Enology. Dr. Linda Bisson from UCD introduced the program at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento this week.

VENSource originated after deep budget cuts in early 2010. The year-old department enhances and expands upon the former UC Davis Trellis Alliance and affiliated RAVE classes, now offered as “Wine Flavor 101” classes. VENSource is self-sufficient and independent of UC Davis funding. 

The Enology Access website was designed to be interactive and fully searchable, with social interaction capability. It contains information, self-tutorials, webinars, live office hours and other industry-friendly features. Registration is free to all, so growers and winemakers anywhere can access the expertise of both university scholars and their peers.

    Wine Flavor 101 classes at UC Davis

  • March 18—Wine Flavor 101C: Impact of Saccharomyces Strains on Flavor
  • April 1—Wine Flavor 101D: Vineyard Impacts on Wine Flavor
  • June 10—Wine Flavor 101E: Impacts of Winemaking Decisions on Wine Flavor
Wine Flavor 101
According to VENSource program director Kay Bogart, the outreach department is self-funded, in large part through support of Wine Flavor 101 attendees. “We have incredible industry support," Bogart told Wines & Vines. Employers send key employees to study for a day and pay class registration fees, helping to fuel the program.

VENSource classes are designed specifically for wine industry professionals, and are held in the new UC Davis conference center.  Classes sell out regularly and waiting lists are already common.

The technical level of course work is high: For attendees who aren’t already versed in the fine points of something like molecular SO2, for example, these classes may be a long and confusing slog. Chemistry knowledge will also serve students well. If it’s been a few years since you’ve pored over chicken-wire diagrams, a quick refresher is highly recommended.

UC Davis wine flavor class
Students are given the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the sensory properties of various wine flaws.
Mark Chon, head of guest relations at 20,000-case Opus One, Oakville, Calif. recently attended VENSource’s Wine Flavor 101B, Recognizing Defects During Aging. With a 20-year tenure Opus One, he was driven to enroll by his desire to engage in intelligent dialogue with customers about wine defects. Subsequently, now he can advise customers about proper wine storage to minimize risk of spoilage; the classes, he said, “give context to what customers are talking about when they come in to discuss wine defects.”

Chon remarked, “Linda Bisson articulates very well and is extremely dedicated. She made herself available to us even after the classes.  Also, there’s a nice camaraderie between instructors. The passion is there.”

Ron Morris, winemaker and owner of 1,000-case Secret Ravine Vineyards and Winery, Loomis, Calif., completed all Wine Flavor classes of the series A – F. “I think they’re fantastic. You get the opportunity to experience aromas, plus all of the biologic and chemical data that surrounds it. I don’t know of another clinical setting where you can experience the science behind wine defects along with the sensory,” Morris said. 

Wine Flavor classes present a broad spectrum of scenarios that the average winemaker might not experience elsewhere. Morris currently has wine aging in 300 oak barrels in his Secret Ravine Winery cellar. He said the classes have changed his sanitation and testing protocols, and he’s now paying closer attention to every phase of the winemaking process. “There are a lot of things that I now do a little differently,” he admitted.

Phil Burton, owner of Barrel Builders, Calistoga, Calif., regularly tastes wines as part of his cooperage business. “There are so many factors other than oak that enter into the flavor of wine. The more I know about wine taint, the more effective I am in discussing flavor profiles with winemakers,” he said. Even though Burton has been in the barrel business for 35 years, “The more I can do to learn, the more fun I have and the better I feel about my business.”
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