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Wine and viticulture at Cal Poly get a big boost as new facility opens

Wine made by Cal Poly Students
Posted at 11:59 AM, Jan 18, 2022

The Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture program is already well known throughout the industry but now with a brand new location, the program is getting a big boost.

The Justin and J. Lohr Center for Wine and Viticulture brings state-of-the-art production space and other needed attributes to the students, research professors, and to Central Coast wine professionals.

William Sandberg is a senior in the Wine and Viticulture program and the president of the Cal Poly Vines to Wines Club. He has seen this project come to fruition.

"This is a huge step, for one - our school and the major, but for the industry in general,” Sandberg said.

The Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture program is already the largest undergraduate program of its kind in the U.S. with over 300 undergraduate students, but now over 27,000 square feet of state-of-the-art classrooms, labs, and production space will improve the program even more.

Sandberg was one of the first students to set foot in the space.

“It's incredible," he said. "You walk in and you're so like, wow. Like, I don't feel like I'm on campus by any means. You walk into that room and it's like it's so spot on to what you would see in the industry. I mean, it by far is probably one of the coolest things I've seen.”

The department is led by Dr. Benoît Lecat, who has been instrumental in the improvements to the program.

"I knew that it would be an amazing asset for our students, but also for the industry," Dr. Lecat said. "To save time not to train too much, the student becomes exposed to most of the technology. We are partnering with so many different suppliers to show the best pieces of equipment that the student would see one day in their career.”

The $22 million facility contains everything from grape sorting tables to barrel aging rooms and when combined with the adjoining student vineyard, takes the students all the way from grape to glass.

“You instantly want to get your hands dirty and you know, to be able to work with all the equipment, and it's just such a cool space to even call it somewhat of a classroom," Sandberg said. "I mean, this is probably one of the top-tier classrooms you'll ever get to see.”

“In the past, we were doing the same thing but we're doing that in a garage, and right now, we are doing that in a modern operation,” Lecat added.

The new space will be used for classes, campus events and even by industry professionals.

One exciting part of this facility is the professional sensory analysis lab. Here students are already participating in blind tastings similar to what is the industry standard.

While walking through the sensory analysis lab, Sandberg said, "It's getting to come in here every week. You really felt like it wasn't really that you were a part of the school, it was more like oh, like this is a real kind of thing that I'm participating in."

The program focuses on all aspects of winemaking with required curriculum in technology, viticulture, and wine business.

Students in the program under the age of 21 are able to fully participate in courses thanks to CA Assembly Bill 1989, also known as the "sip and spit" law.

The center will be fully open for classes this fall.