March 6, 2013

Cornell Wines Professor Says Class is ‘Window to University’

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After 41 years of teaching HADM 4300: Introduction to Wines, Prof. Steve Mutkoski ’67 Ph.D. ’76, hotel administration, still says his favorite wine is “whatever is in my glass at the time.”

Mutkoski first came to Cornell as a freshman in the School of Hotel Administration in 1963, and during his time as an undergraduate, he took a wines class consisting of 30 students. Today, he teaches this class to 700 students. In total, almost 40,000 Cornellians have taken the “Introduction to Wines” class with Mutkoski.

While on sabbatical in France in 1983, Mutkoski said he received a call from a colleague who was looking for someone to teach “Introduction to Wines.”

“I had a personal interest in wines and a professional knowledge as well,” Mutkoski said. “I saw the class as a new adventure.”

He began teaching the class full time in 1984 and has taught thousands of students since. At one point, he said, the class reached a total enrollment of 880 students.

Mutkoski said many people are curious about the liability of running a classroom where alcohol is not only discussed, but also tasted. According to Mutkoski, he keeps the atmosphere controlled with measured pourers and over 10 teaching assistants to monitor the class.

Mutkoski said, however, that most students take the class seriously.

“Ninety-nine percent of students come into my classroom with the right intention,” Mutkoski said. “We weed out the ones who don’t fairly quickly.”

“Introduction to Wines,” an item on the “161 Things to Do At Cornell” list, typically fills up within minutes of course registration opening. Mutkoski likes to say he’s teaching far more than what’s in the glass; he’s developing “sophistication.”

“Years later you run into these people all over the place,” Mutkoski said.  “They’ve had time to travel the world and visit places we learned about in class, and I’m so happy they can bring this piece of Cornell with them.”

Besides obtaining his undergraduate degree from Cornell, Mutkoski also recieved his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1976. Between degrees, Mutkoski operated a restaurant on Long Island, which he later sold to another Cornell graduate. According to him, it was a natural progression to become a teacher.

“To work in food service and management, you need to develop your own staff to become as efficient as possible,” Mutkoski said. “I’ve found teaching very similar. It’s rewarding in the same ways.”

Mutkoski has traveled extensively to conduct research for his class and other projects, visiting France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile, among other countries. According to Mutkoski, whenever he has at least a week off from work, he tries to visit a wine region.

“On my last sabbatical I visited South Africa and New Zealand. I made five or six trips to Australia because it’s so vast and spread out,” Mutkoski said.

He added that while he cannot pick a favorite wine, he said he recommends South Africa or the Douro area of Portugal.

Although Mutkoski has traveled the world researching and tasting thousands of varieties of wines, he says he appreciates his quiet Wednesday afternoons teaching “Introduction to Wines” the most.

“I enjoy sharing the subject of wine with these students,” Mutkoski said. “For me, it’s a window to the entire University.”

Original Author: Erika Hooker