The comprehensive five-week class, held during the second summer session, integrates topics such as topography, fermentation processes, viticultural practices, the history of wine, and the health benefits and risk factors of alcohol consumption in society with hands-on experience in and outside of the classroom.
“Many wine courses only deal with wine appreciation, French wines, growing grapes, making wine, or marketing retail management,” Keiffer said. “My intention is to expose the student, through an intensive program, to all of the various aspects of the process.”
Keiffer emphasizes the importance the physical properties of climatology and focuses on the significance of agriculture in the course. The type of trellis system, pruning of vines, soil conditions and overall environment play a large role in the development of a good vineyard — and a good vineyard produces good grapes, which produce good wine. The actual production of wine is different based on the fermentation process, and Keiffer noted that only certain regions around the world are conducive to maintaining a vineyard — areas of the United States, Europe, East Asia, South America, South Africa and Australia.
“It’s all geography. Various environments produce different tastes,” said Keiffer, who has been teaching the course for 11 years at various institutions including Kent State University and Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. He has also served as a wine judge for the past eight years.
Keiffer said the course is beneficial to students because it introduces them to geography while allowing them to engage in the field component. In addition to classroom teaching, students also learn about the processing of grapes into wine, a 5,000 year-old-practice with origins in ancient Egypt and Afghanistan, by visiting vineyards in southern Ohio and Indiana, including Chateau Pomije and Valley Vineyard. Keiffer also accompanies students to wineries in Cincinnati to learn the retail management aspect.
The course is only open to students 21 years of age or older, and Keiffer first and foremost stresses the importance of alcohol consumption and awareness to students in the class. During every session, students go to a “tasting room” where they gather at a large table and engage in wine-tasting and group discussion about the wine’s character. Keiffer typically brings a variety of a specific wine to each class, such as three bottles of Chardonnay, so that students may rate and compare each wine’s clarity, color, aroma, taste and balance.
“Every single glass of wine has something good about it,” said David Fleenor, class of 2005, of Noblesville, Ind. “Whether it’s the smell or the taste, there is always an exceptional quality [to the wine].”
|>Students gather after a day of pruning at Greco's vineyard.|
Fleenor enrolled in Keiffer’s class last summer. He was so enticed that he chose to apply his knowledge and skills through three independent studies and an internship over the course of his senior year. This summer, Fleenor completed his third independent study at a farm owned by Steve and Patty Petzinger in Owenton, Ky., where he helped manage a vineyard. He taught the couple how to develop and maintain a vineyard, which included teaching weed control, pruning of the vines and herbicide applications.
“Maintaining a vineyard is extremely labor-intensive,” said Fleenor, a communication major with a minor in geography. “There’s a lot of sweat and a lot of care involved.”
During one of his independent studies, Fleenor helped maintain the vineyard at Chateau Pomije. He said all of the opportunities have been good learning experiences, and he credits Keiffer’s summer class for helping him gain practical skills.
“Dr. Keiffer thinks outside the box,” Fleenor said. “He engages students with hands-on, real-world experience. This class is exactly what a liberal arts education is supposed to be.”
Fleenor is not the only student who has developed a great appreciation for the course and subject matter.
Andy Bucheit, class of 2005, said the class has been more valuable that he ever expected.
“My appreciation for wine has definitely grown,” said Bucheit of Cincinnati, Ohio. “I thought this class would be useful in the future because wine is a big part of our culture.”
While some students enrolled in the course for its practical value, other students had different motives for taking the class. Deb Stooksberry, a staff assistant in the Office of the Registrar and an adult student enrolled through Wittenberg’s School of Community Education (SCE), was looking for a course to further her college education. However, she said enrolling for summer classes was at first intimidating because she had not been in college since 1978.
Stooksberry, who earned her associate’s degree from Clark Tech, now Clark State Community College, was not only drawn to the course because of its intriguing title, but thought the class would be a good “foot-in-the-door” in terms of getting her back into the academic world.
“It’s been a great experience,” Stooksberry said. “I have a better understanding and appreciation for wine. The class has definitely broadened my horizons.”
— Sarah Gearhart '06
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