Students enrolled in Wines and other alcohol-based classes have been receiving tasting packages to sample at home. (Jing Jiang/ Sun File Photo)

March 2, 2021

No Wine Left Behind: Alcohol-Based Classes Chug On

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What’s the best schedule for a second semester senior? For Ellen Park ’21 it’s four alcohol classes.

At least that’s what Park decided when she enrolled in “Introduction to Wines,” “Introduction to Wines and Vines,” “Cider Production: Apples and Fermented Juice” and “The Science and Technology of Beer.” 

“This is my last semester at Cornell, so I have been taking a lot of very lax classes,” Park said. 

When taught in-person, “Introduction to Wines” would bring about 700 students together in the Statler Hall Auditorium for college-condoned and New York State-sanctioned day drinking. 

The New York State law that allows underage alcohol consumption for educational purposes doesn’t extend to students’ off-campus residences, where COVID-19 has pushed tasting classes onto Zoom. 

Instead, professors are getting creative with at-home, non-alcoholic sensory experiences and optional beverage lists for those of age. 

Kathy Arnink, who teaches “Introduction to Wines and Vines” and “Cider Production,” puts together packages for Ithaca-based students to pick up at Stocking Hall. These packages include tasting solutions to represent different levels of sugar, acidity and bitterness, as well as scents to sniff, like essential oils. This week, students taking the lab component will pick up supplies for an at-home yeast fermentation. 

Prof. Cheryl Stanley ’00, who teaches “Introduction to Wines,” personally sent each student scratch-and-sniff stickers and recommended using other common items, like lemons and tea, to practice tasting. 

“[The stickers] remind me of elementary school or when I was still a kid,” said Josephine Zeng ’21. 

Despite the virtual setting, she took Wines after hearing it was, “one of the best ways to get drunk on campus and have that be OK.”

Both Park and Zeng tried to mimic the fun of a traditional wines class by getting together with other classmates to purchase and taste the recommended wines — socially distanced, Park noted. For one week, they split $100 worth of wine among six people. 

“[Wines] gives me a reason for me and my friends to get together and enjoy ourselves, which is something I can’t really do in my other classes,” Zeng said. 

Arnink, who has taught for about 15 years, really misses “interaction with students,” especially in classes with a prominent practical component. She hopes, once the weather warms and she receives the COVID vaccine, to hold outdoor, in person tastings for students enrolled in the hybrid version of the course.

Currently, enrollment numbers are lower to accommodate potential in-person learning. ““Cider Production” currently has about 75 students enrolled compared to about 120 in typical semesters. Wines and Vines, similarly, has only 160 compared to 240 in past years. 

Doug Miller, lecturer for “Introduction to Fermented Grains, Hard Ciders and Sake,” managed to keep his class in person by scrapping the in-class tasting component and capping enrollment at 19 students. Now, students are given non-alcoholic tasting kits for use outside of class. 

While drinking alcohol in class may be a big draw for students, professors still hope to teach effectively without it. For Miller, that means conveying how products are made and how to be an informed consumer. For Arnink, it also means giving students the knowledge to have sophisticated conversations about wine with the adults in their life.

However, despite these adaptations, Zeng said she is still looking forward to returning to an in-person format.

“I feel like it was so important to take the class just because it’s such a Cornell class to take,” Zeng said