Wine Research

A collaboration between Cal Poly's Wine and Viticulture Department and the Central Coast wine industry

On any given day at Cal Poly’s JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture, students can be found in its labs working alongside professors, researching the chemical and sensory properties of the wines being made there.

Students are exposed to the entire winemaking process from growing grapes to producing and marketing wines. In that process, they receive an unrivaled education in the analytics of winemaking – from characterizing the chemistry of wine varietals and styles to the sensory features of wines and the effect that winemaking interventions have on the taste and aroma of the final product. State-of-the-art equipment at the center, provided by donors from the industry with the intent of preparing graduates to excel upon graduation, gives Cal Poly students insight into the winemaking process not found elsewhere.

In March, the Cal Poly Wine Research Initiative was launched to strengthen the collaboration between Cal Poly’s Wine and Viticulture Department and the wine industry on California’s Central Coast and beyond. It represents the next step in training the future generations of wine industry leaders and innovators. “This initiative allows us to expand the program’s research capacity to better serve our students and the wine community,” said Cal Poly Enology Professor Federico Casassa. “It leverages Cal Poly’s unique location, its high-tech equipment and research capabilities to meet the needs of industry.”

John Couch, of Couch Family Wines, serves as an advisor to the initiative. After moving to the Central Coast a few years ago after retiring from Apple, he quickly got involved with Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture program and saw its potential to be the best in the country. By funding essential equipment in Cal Poly’s JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture such as 30-gallon custom tanks used for fermenting research wines and a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry machine to allow faculty and students insight into the volatile components of wine aromas, Couch has helped spur innovation and excellence in the program.

Agricultural business students pitched in to create a business plan for the Cal Poly Wine Research Initiative with a vision to go “beyond the glass” in order to leverage Cal Poly’s multidisciplinary expertise, technology and new varietals to meet the needs of the Central Coast wine industry and beyond. “Cal Poly students are studying the entire process from soil composition in vineyards, to chemical and sensory evaluation in wine making to Artificial Intelligence tools and data science to match the taste preferences of consumers,” John Couch said. “This initiative is a way to take the world class program currently offered at Cal Poly and make it available as a value-added service to the wine industry and community.”

The initial goal is to raise $3.5 million to hire needed laboratory technicians to expand the research capabilities of the program and offer more learning opportunities to students. The funding will also be used to hire additional student research assistants. The immediate priority is to hire a dedicated sensory lab technician, who will utilize the new J. Lohr Sensory Lab in the to analyze the unique sensory features of wines and the effect of winemaking interventions. That effort has long been supported by Jerry Lohr, owner of J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, who owns vineyards in Monterey, Napa Valley and Paso Robles and frequently employs Cal Poly students and alumni.

Casassa, an enologist who specializes in wine sensory analysis, and Associate Professor Miguel Pedroza, who specializes in the sensory perception of wine aromas, will lead the initiative with the goal of leveraging Cal Poly’s unique expertise, geography, climate, soils and research to make exceptional wines.

“The initial focus will be on the Central Coast because of our connections here but we plan to serve other winemaking regions as well,” said Benoît Lecat, head of the Wine and Viticulture Department. “Our students will benefit from this initiative by becoming better winemakers as they are more exposed to the profound level that the analytical and sensory contributions aid in winemaking on a technical level and connecting those to consumer preferences. We want to do things that are novel and beyond what wineries are able to do on their own.”

To support the initiative, contact Tim Northrop at


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