Virtual Learning

Jim Shumate blends wines alone at the campus pilot winery

The culminating course in a three-part, yearlong series on winemaking teaches students to blend and bottle the wines that they have been making since fall. When the coronavirus pandemic forced spring courses to go virtual, Lecturer Jim Shumate (Wine and Viticulture, ’09) was determined to find a way that students could still experience the hands-on nature of the sequence.

“These students made all the decisions about the wines to this point, using everything they had learned over the previous three years to make those decisions,” said Shumate, a consulting winemaker at Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery in Templeton, California. “I wanted to try and keep them involved as much as possible.”

Shumate spent a week assembling 400 small sample bottles of the 16 wines made by students that year. He then mailed them to all 25 students taking the course. Each student received 16 different samples that they could then use to determine the blends they thought would achieve the best wine.

This doesn't mean that our education was lessened. In fact, some might say that we had to work even harder to produce our final product despite the cards we were dealt.”

Students worked in small groups and set up Zoom meetings to do tasting trials together to choose the blends they thought tasted best. “My group and I would meet in three-to-four-hour chunks through Zoom, tasting through each individual sample and then later through the blends we were crafting for our class,” said Marcel Velasco, a senior wine and viticulture major. “In total, we probably created 20 different blends for each of our white and red wines.”

Allie Donegan (Wine and Viticulture, ’20) said her final year’s courses helped to prepare her to enter the wine industry. While she was disappointed to not be able to do all aspects of the final segment in person, she was grateful for Shumate’s effort to allow students to do the blending from their own homes. “Before these courses, we knew how wine chemistry worked and all the microbial populations in wine and what theoretically not to do, but until you’re physically making the wine and making mistakes that teach you what the book won’t, you would go into the industry with nothing but being book smart,” she said.

Of the many blends made by the class, Shumate ultimately chose the four best blends to be bottled — two red wines and two white wines — which each student will receive to commemorate their hard work. Shumate spent several long, uncharacteristically quiet days in the campus pilot winery blending and later bottling the wine — a task that students would typically do themselves. In all, he bottled about 400 cases of wine by hand.

“It’s important to me that the students get each of the wines,” Shumate said. “They all worked and touched these wines at one point or another, and it is something that presents them and all of their hard work. It's something they can take back to their family and friends and say ‘Hey, I made this.’”

For Velasco, the course proved to be rewarding, even in quarantine. “We unfortunately did not get the hands-on experience of maintaining the wine through the last stages of fining, filtering (if needed), labeling and bottling,” Velasco said. “This doesn't mean that our education was lessened. In fact, some might say that we had to work even harder to produce our final product, despite the cards we were dealt.”


Jam Making at Home

Food science seniors enrolled in spring quarter’s Product Development course were given the task of reformulating Cal Poly’s signature jam to have a lower sugar content. There was just one catch: They would be doing it in their own home kitchens.

Professors Amy Lammert and Samir Amin, who coteach the course, quickly assembled packages to be mailed or picked up by students containing the ingredients that students would need for the course.

“We put together a survey to assess what they had access to and what supplies they would need,” Lammert said. And then they got busy getting the supplies ready for the 21 students taking the capstone course. Citrus acid, several varieties of pectin, pH strips to test acidity, jars and lids, a scale and sugar were all labeled, boxed up and shipped off. A second shipment was made several weeks later, this time containing more than 11 pounds of raspberries, shipped overnight to preserve the fruit’s quality.

“It was definitely a challenge, and we had some epic fails along the way,” Lammert said. “Developing a food product remotely is hard — especially making sure that measurements for such things as texture were done uniformly.”

In the pilot kitchen on campus, tools such as scales, balances, texture analyzers and thermometers help to standardize the learning outcomes. “We were limited by what they had [in their home kitchens] and what we could get to them in a timely manner,” Lammert said, adding that Cal Poly was the only university she was aware of that was able to pivot quickly enough to teach the course remotely.

“Product development is a true search and discover process,” said Lammert. “Students embraced the class as an evolving process and understood that trials and tribulations are a part of every experience.”


Visit Cultivate Summer 2020 to read more stories.

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