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Juniata Students Learn about Wine Culture in New Course

(Posted November 13, 2012)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- By this time in the semester, midterms are over and students are typically concentrated on cramming for tests and feverishly typing away at papers. At Juniata College, students in the new "Wine in a Vessel" course also have to worry about creating palatable wine and constructing the bottles to store it in.

In 2009, Juniata College began offering a chemistry of wine course surrounding the chemistry of developing and tasting wine, but this year's wine class is bigger and better. The new fall semester course "Wine in a Vessel" has three professors teaching the chemistry of wine and history of wine culture throughout the development of civilization. Chemist Peter Baran, ceramic artist Bethany Benson and archeologist Jonathan Burns are team-teaching an exploration of how cultures from ancient Egypt to modern-day Napa Valley have developed and used wine in everyday life.

"The objective of this course is to give students better perception of the role that wine has played since the beginning of civilization. Wine is not a taboo, but an important component of (a particular) culture."
Peter Baran, associate professor of chemistry

"The objective of this course is to give students better perception of the role that wine has played since the beginning of civilization," Baran says. "Wine is not a taboo, but an important component of (a particular) culture."

Like a master winemaker mixes different grape varieties to make certain wines, students in this class will be expected to blend their knowledge of ancient wine producing cultures with the hands-on components of the course. "Students are getting a great (well-rounded) experience. They keep journals, do research, go on wine tasting adventures, learn about winemaking, and create storage vessels," says Burns, who is an adjunct professor at Juniata and director of the archeological non-profit organization AXIS Research, Inc. "It all gets funneled into one vessel," jokes Benson.

"There is a research component to the course where students will chose an ancient culture that interests them and learn about the pottery and viticulture within that region," explains Burns, "We talk about how different cultures made and decorated their vessels and where they shipped their product."

One of the ways to understand how an ancient culture functioned is to examine how the civilization used and stored wine. That's where Benson, assistant professor of art, comes in. Benson acknowledges that this is the first time that many of these students have worked in a ceramic studio, or made wine. "So far, they have made wine goblets and wine bottles to display various techniques. Then we will begin to think about fine art, and elements of design." By the end of the course, each student will make a large storage vessel based on historical and archeological examples of the ancient civilization they have chosen to research.

Because bottles and storage vats are of little use without something to put into them, Baran will concentrate on teaching the chemistry and process of wine creation. Baran explains that students "will grow grapes, make wine, learn about the fermentation and aging processes and discover how to taste it. Students also get hands-on experiences by cleaning our vineyard, harvesting the grapes and preparing the vineyard for winter."

As part of this course, students will also attend field trips to several wineries. These outings will give students the opportunity to taste different varieties of regional wines, and see the differences between small scale and commercial wineries. The professors hope to teach their students an enhanced appreciation of wine and its culture, and an understanding of the entrepreneurship possibilities within the wine making process.

Written by: Erin Kreischer '13, Juniata magazine intern


Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.