The Cornell Cuvee Society, Cornell’s wine education and blind tasting society, took their skills to the Ecole Hoteliere in Lausanne, Switzerland, this past week and took third place at a wine tasting competition.
The team was co-captained by Ryan Avery Follensbee ’18 and Andrew Vinegar ’18 and coached by Prof. Cheryl Stanley ’00, food and beverage management.
Cuvee competes in four competitions each year and selects 14 students to participate in the competitions. The first competition of this year was the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup in New York City, where the team came in third. Cuvee then sent students to two competitions in the Champagne region of France.
After disappointing finishes at the Sciences Po International Tasting in Epernay and Challenge AgroVinoTech in Reims, the team was determined to finish strong in Switzerland when they competed in the Millesime Wine Tasting Competition.
“We had this mindset that we wanted to win, but if we fell short of that we wanted to make sure Cornell retained its top three placing at this competition,” Vinegar said. The team won the competition in 2017.
Finishing behind teams of Ecole Hoteliere and Oxford University, Cuvee had to identify the wine’s country, region within the country, markers, vintage and varietal — the type of grape used to make the wine — during the competition. Along with identifying the wines, the participants also had to create food and wine pairings.
“We were prepared,” Follensbee said. “I think we were a little cooler under the pressure than other teams there.”
Cornell is also the only school to send undergraduates to blind tasting competitions, according to Stanley.
“At every other school that’s competing you have to be 21 to learn anything about wine, whereas here you don’t have to be at the university level.”
In domestic competition, Cornell Cuvee competes against teams from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Yale law school, Columbia law school and other top graduate programs.
The team is made up of members of the hotel school and the college of agriculture. Experience levels in the group vary, from young hotel students and CALS students who want to learn more about food and beverages to graduate students with experience in the wine industry. For this reason, the undergraduates sent to competitions vary, while most graduate schools send the same players each time.
“We’re sending fresh faces every time, and obviously people have to get over nerves,” Follensbee said. “It’s a significant difference between the quality of the win.”
Both Follensbee and Stanley agreed that the program serves as a way for students to learn from each other about wine, from the production to the business side of the operations.
“I’m not there to teach them,” Stanley said. “They’re there to learn and teach each other.”