Ken McCleary’s Winery Tourism course includes two wine tastings, one for red wines and one for white, conducted during the fifth and 10th weeks of class at a local hotel.
“Students learn how to pour and serve the wine, how to taste it, and observe its bouquet and appearance,” said McCleary, a hospitality and tourism management professor in the Pamplin College of Business. He also arranges for various cheeses and crackers to be served, “primarily to absorb some of the alcohol and cleanse the palate.”
Hospitality and tourism majors, who seek careers in the industry, typically make up half the class. Students in other majors, which have included agricultural sciences, English, geosciences, management, marketing, psychology, and sociology, are generally interested in being more professionally polished, McCleary said. “If they are going out to dinner with a recruiter or business associate, they want to have some basic knowledge of how to order wine, what goes with what, and why one wine is different from another.”
McCleary divides his class of about 50 students into groups of three. Each group is assigned a specific type of wine — Merlot, Pinot Noir, or other — and each group buys three bottles of the same wine, typically between $8 and $20 a bottle. The cost is shared equally among the group members. The groups give detailed class presentations about their wine in advance of the tasting.
To illustrate the importance of using proper tools, McCleary conducts a bottle opening demonstration during the first tasting. Selecting two students — one, physically imposing; the other, diminutive — McCleary equips the former with an inexpensive auger-like opener, commonly sold in grocery stores. To the latter, he hands a “waiter’s corkscrew.” The strong looking student will have “incredible difficulty,” he said, while the small student will “easily open the bottle.”
McCleary also makes sure he is suitably attired — eschewing white dress shirts, in particular. “I was standing by a student who had pushed the cork down into the bottle of red wine while trying to open it,” he said, recalling the mishap that led to his shirt policy. “When it hit the liquid, the wine exploded out of the top of the bottle.”
The class always votes on which wines students like best, he said, to see if there is a price-preference relationship — “There often is not.”
He also brings spoiled wines to the tastings to let students experience what they are like. “One year,” McCleary noted wryly, “the spoiled wine was voted the favorite.”