Students in Cindy OnkenGlimm’s and Michelle Cleveland’s class closed out their lab work a week before Thanksgiving in an unconventional, yet perfectly appropriate way: With plates of antipasto, a chorus of toasts, and a flight of wines, starting with a Cremant de Bourgogne and ending with a Petit Sirah.
OnkenGlimm is an affiliate faculty member in the Hospitality, Tourism and Events Department, though she prefers a simpler title: wine instructor. Cleveland is a winemaker. And the students—all over 21—learned all about making the nectar of the gods in a course that merged theory and practice, the latter taking place at the Creekside Cellars winery in Evergreen.
The course in enology—the study of winemaking—is new for the department and reflects the University’s philosophy of offering students an experiential education and creating relationships with community partners, a key goal of the 2012-17 strategic plan.
“In our hospitality department we pride ourselves on giving students hands-on experience,” OnkenGlimm says. The course “really gives them an edge on their resume…They can talk about wine in such a confident, knowledgeable way because they have seen…what goes into making it.”
Lisa Williams, a senior who works for a wine distributor, agrees. “When I call on an account like a restaurant or a bar or a retail shop…I can be more in-depth when I explain a wine to my customers, which has already helped me a lot.”
In the world of enology, there’s no better education than learning the process from dirt (working a harvest ) to glass. While MSU Denver students missed the dirt part, they experienced the rest of it at Creekside Cellars, where roughly half of their 16 classes this semester were held.
“I really believe there’s nothing that can replace the hands-on experience,” says Cleveland, Creekside’s winemaker. Book instruction is “supplemental to winemaking, but unless you experience it first-hand and you’re down in the dirt, you’ll never understand it…There’s nothing glamorous about winemaking except what’s in the glass after you’re done making it.”
Creekside purchases its grapes from Colorado growers and owns a 10-acre vineyard in Palisade. Throughout the semester, the students helped with all the unglamorous tasks: sanitizing the machinery, destemming and pressing the grapes, testing the juice, preparing and adding yeast for fermentation, and most recently, bottling Creekside’s Petit Sirah and packing it in cases.
Despite the perks—the students get to sample the product—it was not always easy duty. “It’s quite backbreaking work,” says Stephen Fregoso of a process called “punch downs,” which involves keeping wine and skins mixed during red wine fermentation. “Now I know why wine costs as much as it does.”
OnkenGlimm used to work for Armstrong Oil and Gas in Denver. In 2003, she took a wine class and went on to become a certified sommelier, teaching at MSU Denver and Cook Street School of Culinary Arts.
Cleveland was director of production and distribution for Dazbog Coffee Co., but decided, in her words, “to go for the dream” and make wine. So she signed on with Creekside, working with owner Bill Donahue and completing an online graduate certificate program in enology and viticulture offered through the University of California Davis Extension.
The two have known each other since 2009. OnkenGlimm and Cleveland met every other week or so from last February to April at an Italian restaurant to draft the enology syllabus over dinner and a nice Chianti. “We got very productive there,” OnkenGlimm says.
She hopes to offer the class every fall when the grapes come in. Cleveland is all for it.
“One of the reasons I do it is…to give back to the winemaking community,” she says. “I’m about promoting the entire Colorado wine industry.”
And the enology course provides students with a natural introduction into the study of wine with courses such as Wine Management and Wines of the World in the new cellar management lab at the Hospitality Learning Center. The lab features climate-controlled storage for 3,100 wine bottles and an automated inventory system.
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