Now this section is very far from being a humble brag about hanging out with a group of students drinking wine, although yeah… Being over the legal drinking age in the US, I partook in a few field trips and classes with the ‘Geography of Wine’ class to get an idea of the versatility of the educational opportunities on offer at SCSU. Apart from introducing me to some great people, it gave me a chance to see American students interact with a Professor as well as giving me scope on how the American system works. Also I got to drink some wine.
As a writing credit at SCSU, Seniors may take a class in the geography of wine. (The structure of degrees in the US is, at first, a bit daunting for those of us in the standard UK three year system. To orientate yourself, read my post elsewhere on this site.) Most of those who I joined on this trip were either Geography Majors or Minors. Though I’m fairly sure enough science was involved to allow a credit in Chemistry…
So we all went to a nearby winery, who buy large batches of grape concentrate (a boozy Ribena, essentially)rather than growing the grapes themselves. We arrived at The Wine Makers Boutique in Stratford, Connecticut (an hour or so from New Haven) driven by Professor Patrick Heidkamp, a man of Geography, integrity and Pinot Noir. This kind of field trip is exactly how I picture a college version of Dead Poets Society. I can’t speak for every lecturer at the University, but at the end of our sample session (a delightful yet particularly sweet chocolate port) if Professor Heidkamp had shouted ‘Oh Captain, my Captain!’ the entire class would have jumped onto the bar and saluted. Maybe they didn’t do it this time round so as to retain LJMU’s respect. Maybe I’m just ridiculously excited that learning so much about wine can be part of studying at SCSU.
At a certain point in the evening, I am asked what I think about the idea of doing a geography of wine class: ‘Pretty mental,’ I reply (suavely). ‘But that’s not to deny the obvious hard work and legitimacy of the course’, I hastily add, being as British as possible in my flurried attempt not to offend anyone. Well, it turns out that’s mostly the reason people took the course. It’s a genuine credit, and taught expertly, but the students were honest in their telling me that they took it originally because they got to drink wine, but what quickly becomes clear is the amount of knowledge they have taken on board already. Sneaky teaching: sometimes the best kind.
Each student is given a region to specialise in at the beginning of the year, and everyone has a range of facts from their research of these regions. Regardless of each student’s Major, all are now knowledgeable about the science, the process and the economic implications of wine-making. As this is a module that runs only in the summer, I can only hope that you are lucky enough to stay here and take it then. If not, I did the work so you can imagine it. Kick back with a glass of wine, but make sure to reflect upon its air mileage and sulphite contents. This is a legitimate module, and you get to drink wine – as close to a utopian education as we’ll ever get.
The lovely Bill stepped in to tell us about the process of making wine from grape concentrate. So here’s a visual guide:
As you can see, it’s all a bit Breaking Bad (in the best possible way). Of course the pictures show different steps of different wines, we didn’t just cook up a batch on the evening. That, sadly, is impossible.
Students are encouraged by Professor Heidkamp to answer and ask questions and to participate in the making process step by step. It’s a real mix of some basic Law, some intermediate Chemistry and History, and, of course, a whole lot of Geography.
The American university system, though complicated, offers such a wide range of opportunities. I can only hope that if something like this comes up for your module choice you take the plunge and apply. You might be an English Major, but why not try something different? That’s what Study Abroad is all about, right?