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Cabrillo College Revives Wine Program

California voters prompt return of courses to Santa Cruz-area school this fall

by Jane Firstenfeld
cabrillo college wine
The Santa Cruz Mountains Winery Association is working with the Cabrillo's restored wine program to stage a major fundraiser at Sesnon House on the college campus next fall.
Aptos, Calif.—Two years after state budget woes forced Cabrillo College to slash the popular wine-education classes from its culinary curriculum, two entry-level courses will return for the fall 2013 semester.

Sue Slater, the program’s longtime instructor, thanked California voters for approving Proposition 30, which restored funding for the state’s struggling educational system. In the fall, Slater will teach “Sensory Evaluation of Wine Varietals” and “Wine and Wine Service.”

Both of these classes, she said, already are virtually full. She expects they will also appear on the schedule for spring 2014 and hopes the more specialized, advanced wine courses will return in future years. Students are able to enroll in both classes at once.

“We’re starting out with the basic, beginning classes again before we can continue to more complicated electives,” Slater told Wines & Vines. “I expect a tidal wave in September, not just from the culinary program but the general public.”

Slater, who has continued teaching in the culinary program throughout the hiatus, said she’ll spend the summer retooling the courses required for students seeking the college’s Certificate in Wine & Wine Service, a process that requires approval of the state’s academic chancellor.

Cabrillo’s culinary department is within the school of Human Arts and Social Sciences, which has a new dean, Isabel O’Connor. “She sees very clearly how important wine is,” Slater said.

Stronger community links
Wine and tourism are especially valuable to Santa Cruz County. Since the courses were cut in 2011, the number of wineries in the scenic coastal region has increased from 58 to 66, according to WinesVinesDATA.

Last fall, the Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Association hired the first executive director in its 20-year history: industry veteran Megan Metz. Metz and Slater already are collaborating to support the wine program, starting with the SCMWA’s annual commercial wine judging. This year’s competition will feature more professional judges and a gala fundraiser Oct. 18 at Cabrillo’s historic Sesnon House, an on-campus mansion that serves as a training ground for the school’s advanced culinary students.

Metz has joined the culinary program’s advisory board, and she said: “I wouldn’t mind taking some of the courses. You can never know too much.”

Life changing
Slater, who has a Rolodex full of alumni now working in the industry, said, “The wineries are just waiting” to support the courses and hire successful grads.

Genevieve Daly, who now represents the Henry Wine Group and Classic Artisan Wines in Santa Cruz, took all of Slater’s classes before the temporary shutdown. “It changed my whole life,” she told Wines & Vines.

“I was so lucky to participate,” said the former art gallery manager. “I had a little interest in wine, and someone told me about Sue and the classes. I wanted to learn more. I realized they were not just drinking classes. I went through basic tasting, California and world wines….The more classes I took, the more I thought might like to work in the industry.”

Wine, she learned, “was kind of like art. You learn different cultures.” After completing the program, she applied for a part-time tasting room job. “The person who hired me was amazed I actually knew something about wine,” Daly recalled.

Subsequently, she moved to a retail wine store in the Santa Clara Valley. “At the store, you really needed knowledge.” There, she began talking with a rep from the prestigious Henry Group, and eventually became an independent wine broker.

“I owe it all to Cabrillo. When I worked at the wine store, there were other employees who’d gone to the Culinary Institute in San Jose. It was very expensive, and I could not have afforded to spend $10,000 on wine courses. Cabrillo gave me the confidence.” Daly is now a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators.

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