VEN 3: Introduction to Winemaking in France

The summer session VEN 3 class in Burgundy, France
The summer session VEN 3 class in Burgundy, France

The course in our Department with the greatest enrollment is Introduction to Winemaking, VEN 3. It is taught every quarter and typically has more than 300 students in the course each quarter. The first half of the course includes an introduction to Vitis species used for wine, table grapes and rootstocks. The emphasis is on the production of wine from Vitis vinifera, so lecture material covers grape growing, microorganisms involved in wine production and an extensive section on how table wines and sparkling wines are made. The second half of the course is the geography of wine including material on the grape varieties and wines of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany. New world wines are covered in discussions of wine regions of the Southern Hemisphere including Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile along with South Africa. A description of wine producing regions of the United States emphasizes the importance of California as the largest producer in the U.S.. The course includes a section on the history of wine, wine and health and sensory evaluation of wine. VEN 3 is a general education course and students from every major have taken it to learn the basics of winemaking. 

VEN 3 as taught on campus is entirely a lecture-based course with no field trips or winetasting for students, many of which are under 21. In 2004 the Department partnered with the U.C. Davis Summer Abroad program to offer the course during the summer session in France. The course is made possible by the efforts of Professor Emeritus Pascal Durand, from the Université de Borgogne in Dijon who makes all of the arrangements in France and gives several lectures about the wine regions of France. Since the class size is small, typically 16 to 26 students, the format offers the opportunity to not only get the introductory material included in the VEN 3 course, but to also participate in a five-unit Directed Group Study Course, VEN 198. Students thus receive a total of eight units of academic credit during the month they spend in France. Since the drinking age in France is 18, winetasting in conjunction with the class material is not problematic. 

After the basics of grape-growing and winemaking have been discussed in a classroom setting in Dijon, there is a series of field trips to the Burgundy region, Jura, Alsace and Germany where students meet local wine producers from both small and large wineries. Visits usually include a wine tasting and a discussion of the region including the grape varieties grown there and what makes the region unique. Later in the course there is an extended bus trip to the Northern and Southern Rhone, and Provence that includes walking vineyards and tasting the wines. Fortunately for students, every minute is not focused only on wine. The bus trips include visits to olive oil producers, distilleries, a lavender distillery and a facility in Burgundy that produces a wide variety of fruit extracts. 

For many students VEN 3 in France is their first opportunity to travel abroad. Most of the learning really occurs outside the formal classroom setting. Students find themselves in the wine and gastronomy center of France which means that along with the technology and geography of winemaking they see the cultural and historical context of wine, and see how it relates to their interests, no matter what their major might be.