Learning to make wine

22 November 2009

Interview with

Cassandra Collins, University of Adelaide

Cassandra -   My name's Cassandra Collins and I'm a University of Adelaide lecturer in viticulture.

Chris -   Is this the only place in the world where I can come and do a course in how to make a fine bottle of wine?

Cassandra -   No, it's not the only place but it is one of the few.  There's a few other places in Australia.  There's Charles Sturt University and also smaller place like Curtin University, and University of Melbourne that do offer aspects of viticulture and/or wine making.

Chris -   It's still quite rare.  What an amazing thing to do though, to come to a university and drink, which is what most students aspire to do anyway and you can make it part of the course.

Cassandra -   That's true.  There's also many of the technical aspects, not just drinking.  But it is definitely one of the benefits of doing this type of course.  We cover all things right from how to grow grapes and best manage them, to produce high quality fruit that then can be made into high quality wines.  And for some students, they then also go on to learn more about marketing and the business side of the wine industry as well.  So we do cover all aspects of the industry which is quite exciting.Wine

Chris -   Who does that kind of course?

Cassandra -   It's a real mix of people.  You'll get undergraduate students that have maybe come from wine-making families themselves and want to learn more about the science behind it, and help them develop themselves in their future career in the wine industry.  And then you'll also get quite a few students that are a little bit older that have decided they want a career change and want to move into something like the wine industry.  And often, there's a bit of romance and there's definitely a lot of creative energy that goes into the wine industry.  And it does attract those sorts of people.  So we get a wonderful mix of personalities and people from such different backgrounds.  It makes it a pleasure in terms of teaching because you get to meet these people and then learn more about where they've come from.  So that's another benefit.

Chris -   Exam time must be fantastic.  Presumably, you sit down with what the students have made and you get to taste it.

Cassandra -   Yeah, that's true.  Not always as pleasurable as you might think.  At the end of the today, they're still learning.

Chris -   If they make a horrible wine, you make them drink it so they can learn to do it better next time.

Cassandra -   Well to be honest, I do get cases and cases of it.  So yeah, they are left drinking of it at some level.

Chris -   But the key thing is that, I mean, this is a serious business is, isn't it?  I mean, it's a big business.  So how many students are you turning out every year into this industry?

Cassandra -   Okay.  It depends on what they're majoring in but approximately, 50 to 100 depending on their specialty and it does vary a little bit with the trends in the industries in terms of popularity.  So yeah, it does depend on that, but on average, between 50 to 100.

Chris -   It's a three-year course.

Cassandra -   Oenology or wine making is currently a four-year degree.  Viticulture was a three-year degree, but as of next year, all students will be required to do four years.  And what we've done is to integrate more of the grape growing viticulture side of things with the wine making, so students end up with a much more rounded degree even though they can still major in one or the other, so...

Chris -   What about the fact that - because you mentioned some students come from wine-making families and that kind of thing- are you surprised by that, that a lot of these families don't think that they just know everything and they still have something to learn or that they want to even embrace science and bring that into the art of wine making, and it becomes a science rather than an art?

Cassandra -   I think it's, you know, it's also an opportunity for them to learn more firsthand in terms of the latest technologies, also how to present and communicate information which is only going to be valuable to them once they return back in to the wine industry.  So I guess there's lots of side benefits.  It's also an exercise in networking essentially as well because you've got this group of people that are all focused and passionate about the one industry, studying side by side.  I mean, it's an opportunity for them to spur each other on and meet each other as well.  So it's another advantage and I think another reason why wine making families would end up in this system as well.

Chris -   Do you get invited to a lot of parties as a result?  And presumably, you know everybody across the Barossa now.  You must - you must get invites to a lot of these places and be quite in demand.

Cassandra -   That's another wonderful thing about this industry, is the support from the growers, from the wine makers, from the big companies in terms of our research, in terms of allowing our students to come and visit them, to give them their real life, realistic perspective on what's happening in the industry, what's important to them.  We're really lucky that they embrace that and allow us to be a big part of their world as well.  So it's kind of like one big family in a way.

Chris -   And when I fly home later this week, what should I put in my 40 kilos of luggage allowance?  Throw away my clothes and take home 40 kilos of what?

Cassandra -   Good question.  I think you should take a mix dozen actually, at least.  There's too many ones to choose from.  I had a beautiful example of Meshach from Grant Burge the other day. We were lucky enough to take the students out there and we had a wine tasting.  So I'd highly recommend having some of that.  In terms of white wine, I'm always big fan of an older Eileen Hardy Chardonnay.  And also, some of our smaller producers in the Adelaide Hills, I've got some fabulous Sauvignon Blancs and some Chardonnays that are worth checking out.  So I would definitely try and squeeze a few of those into the suitcase.

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