INSIDE Chico State
0 January 31, 2002
Volume 32 Number 9
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Agriculture Class Ages Well: Vintage winetasting course celebrates 30th anniversary

Vernon Andrews

A “crush” of students surrounds Marian Baldy after an Introduction to Wines course, in which she demonstrated where the wine glasses go in a table setting and the difference between white and red wine glasses.

photo by: Jeff Teeter

“Of Course It’s a Course”—that’s how Marian Baldy, College of Agriculture, titled her 1998 article for the American Wine Society Journal on the intriguing Introduction to Wines course she started in 1972. The class has been ongoing ever since, with some 5,800 novice wine lovers learning the finer points of wine-food pairing, decoding wine labels, and distinguishing ultra-ripe peaches from cut green grass. “There are a lot of alums with fond memories of tasting wine on campus,” said Baldy.

The class is unusual, Baldy said, because it is an undergraduate course and not part of an overall enology or viticulture program. This fall there were 180 students, mainly undergraduates who found their way into class by word of mouth. Students must be 21 years old and have at least junior standing. The class is required for recreation and dietetics majors, but most choose it as an elective, including students in agriculture, ag business, communications, journalism, and psychology. She would love to have more community members and university staff, as she has a 6 pm tasting section they could attend after work.

Students pay a $30 class fee, which includes glasses engraved “Official Winetasting Glass—Introduction to Wines, Chico, California.” Students are responsible for bringing their glasses to class so they will be ready for tasting and identifying whites, reds, champagnes (“the wine with stars”), and dessert wines.

The class consists of a two-hour lecture and a one-hour laboratory. Since 1996, the lectures have been available on video through the Meriam Library Limited Loan Desk. Students can check them out and watch them at home. About half the fall participants were video students, who come to campus only for the tasting laboratory.

The videos resulted from what she calls her “secret weapon”—her regular student surveys. “With the surveys, I keep my fingers on the pulse of the students and adjust for what works and what they need.” In one survey, Baldy discovered that scheduling conflicts are a main reason students’ friends did not take the class, so she conceived the videotaping solution. Because of the surveys, she’s made innovations, such as having food tastes along with the wine and field trips to wineries.

The RH Phillips Vineyard in Esparto has adopted the class, their first university-level adoption. They give students behind- the-scenes insight into winery operation, including job shadowing in cultivation, marketing, design, public relations, and winemaking.

Baldy makes good use of WebCT in her class. Videos are all online, along with course content on Power Point slides, lecture outlines, and homework assignments. “Technology fits a pedagogical purpose for me. I believe that testing students regularly helps them manage their time and keep up” said Baldy. There is an online quiz every two weeks, which can be retaken if necessary. Taste homework assignments are not graded, as tasting response varies. “Almost no one fails this class,” Baldy declared with satisfaction.

To accompany the wine course, in 1993 Baldy authored The University Wine Course, now the required text in its fourth reprinting. Robert Mondavi, the famous winery owner, called it “the best approach to wine education I’ve seen in years—perfect for beginners and enormously helpful to all of us who are committed to wine.” Very useful is an appendix on how to set up home tastings, with direct quotes from students who have been in the class. A companion teacher’s manual was published in 1994.

Baldy earned an A.B. in microbiology and a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California, Davis and studied enology there. A distinguished faculty member of the CSU, Chico School of Agriculture since 1972, teaching agricultural genetics, Baldy won the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Award for Excellence in College and University Teaching. She retired in December 2000 and now teaches only the Introduction to Wines class.

From 1972 to 1978, she was winemaker and co-owner of Butte Creek Vineyards—with husband Dick Baldy, College of Agriculture. They made three vintages of dry table wines—French Colombard, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Dry Rosé. Currently they are studying the effects of phylloxera on grape yields.

Future plans include revising her book and doing some new writing. “There is a lot of encouragement on this campus,” Baldy said. “This is an environment where you can grow yourself professionally. Growth is stimulated through working with colleagues across the disciplines.” We’ll look forward to something rich and wonderfully full-bodied, ripe yet elegant and focused, with an impressive fresh finish.

Francine Gair

 

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