April 2, 2009

Teaching winery opens on campus

With the snip of a grapevine, Susan A. Henry, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, opened the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Teaching Winery before a large crowd of faculty, students, vintners and other guests April 1.

Cornell, long known for its viticulture (grape-growing) research, now claims the only university teaching winery in the eastern United States. The $900,000 facility promises to prepare students for careers in New York's wine and grape industry, which ranks third nationally in wine production and includes more than 250 wineries across the state.

Ian Merwin, the Herman M. Cohn Professor of Horticulture, and Ramón Mira de Orduña, associate professor of enology, helped Henry unveil the 1,800-square-foot building. The winery, attached to the Cornell Orchards store, will act as the Ithaca hub for CALS' new viticulture and enology undergraduate major, which enrolls roughly 30 students and draws on more than 50 faculty members from the horticulture, food science technology, plant pathology, and applied economics and management departments. Inside the winery, students will access cutting-edge equipment to learn the science and art of winemaking.

"The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Teaching Winery represents a major enhancement to our Viticulture and Enology (V&E) program," said Henry. "Having this facility in Ithaca is crucial for our undergraduates, who will gain from hands-on experience in winemaking and grape-growing."

Previously, V&E students crafted wines in a makeshift lab on the mezzanine of Stocking Hall. At the ceremony, students offered tastes of experimental wines produced in a fall 2008 class. Nearby, Sabrina Lueck '10, a V&E major, said, "I'm beyond excited to begin using all the winery's beautiful equipment."

The winery includes state-of-the-art fermentation tanks and a modern microbiological and chemical lab, elements needed for the storage of grapes and the preparation and analysis of wines. It will allow students and faculty convenient access to three acres of hybrid wine grapes at Cornell Orchards and is near the program's Lansing vineyards, which grow more traditional varieties like Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay.

"The facility will be among the finest in the United States and will provide our students with the widest possible range of winemaking experience," said Mira de Orduña.

Mira de Orduña thanked numerous wineries and companies that donated equipment, including de-stemmers, filters, barrels and tanks, and also enzymes, yeast, bacteria and fining agents used in the production of wine. He said, in particular, that oak barrels donated by Canton Cooperage of Lebanon, Ky., and that a custom-made WinePod fermenter by Provina of San Jose, Calif., would expose students to "both the most traditional and the latest equipment available in winemaking."

Ted Boscia is a staff writer in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.