Holiday cheer for students in New Mexico State University’s fall introductory winemaking class came in the form of wine – Zinfandel and Dolcetto – that they made, bottled and labeled themselves.
The 14 NMSU students taking the class for credit, as well as the nine community members taking it as an Extension workshop, came away from the experience with a full case of the wines the class produced.
All participants were required to be at least 21 years of age.
The course is team-taught by Bernd Maier, NMSU Extension viticulture specialist, and Bill Gorman, professor emeritus of agricultural economics and agricultural business. This was the second year the course was offered by NMSU.
The class is designed to meet the needs of students planning careers in the wine or restaurant business; community members who grow grapes on their property and want to take the next step, or who are considering a career change; and even individuals just wanting to know more about wine.
The class covers three areas, according to Gorman: how to make wine, the economics of winemaking and building a winery, and marketing the wine. It is tailored to New Mexico’s growing wine industry, which is dominated by small wineries spread around the state.
The program’s equipment, housed in the small viticulture facility at NMSU’s Fabian Garcia Science Center, is basically a miniaturized version of what a large winery would use. It includes a stemmer/crusher, a bladder press, pumps, tanks, and filtration equipment.
“A student will get to work with all of this equipment along the winemaking process that is really no different than what would be encountered in a medium-scale commercial winery,” Maier said.
Although Maier grows wine grapes at Fabian Garcia for research purposes, the vineyard does not yet have the capacity to supply what the class needed for production purposes. So they went on a field trip over Labor Day weekend and brought back Zinfandel and Dolcetto grapes from a vineyard near Deming. Upon their return, they crushed the grapes and set them up for fermentation.
After a week, they ran the grapes through the bladder press to squeeze the juice out and then transferred the juice into the tanks.
The hands-on experience from crushing and fermentation, through racking and fining, to the final filtering and bottling proceeded in tandem with the academic content of the class.
Among the local community members taking the class through NMSU Extension were Rusty and Carol Babington. Rusty is an attorney and Carol is a real estate broker.
Carol said the class was an eye-opener for her, in terms of how complex the whole winemaking process is and the crucial importance of cleanliness to the success of the process. “I’m very confident that I can make my own wine now,” she said. “We will continue the learning process.”
She also said she can imagine being involved in the future in some aspect of the New Mexico wine industry, perhaps on the marketing side.
Meanwhile, the Babingtons are enjoying the fruits of their semester-long labors. “We took this class for fun,” Carol said. “The wine that we have, that we bottled, was definitely worth the price of the class.”
The Babingtons hosted a holiday wine-tasting party recently for a number of friends, and included Zinfandel from the class in the selection. The wine is young – the 13 weeks between crushing and bottling is mandated more by the semester schedule than by what produces great wine – but Carol reported that it was quite well received.
The final assignment of the class was to design and produce labels for their own bottles, and there was a contest at Gorman’s end-of-semester banquet to identify the winning design. The labels added the final touch to the bottles, which many of the students planned to give as holiday gifts, spreading the holiday cheer to friends and family.
The course will be offered again in fall 2012.
To learn more about all aspects of New Mexico viticulture and NMSU support for the wine industry, go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/ces/viticulture/ .