DOBSON — The sixth annual Southeastern United Grape and Wine Symposium took place Wednesday on the campus of Surry Community College at The Shelton-Badgett NC Center for Viticulture and Enology.
After a full day of workshops, lectures and talks from industry professionals from wine-producing regions as diverse as California, Italy and France, symposium participants got a chance to taste some wine, enjoy a vast hors d’oeuvre buffet and listen to Melva Houston sing with the Bob Sanger trio. The wine professionals were joined by wine lovers whose primary interest in wine is consuming it, rather than producing it. The groups mingled as Houston sang jazz standards.
The symposium originally came from grant funding through the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), according to Jami Woods, vice president of academic affairs at Surry Community College. VESTA is a Midwestern organization and was looking for an East Coast presence.
Woods said the collaboration with VESTA ultimately did not work out as a recruitment tool for the college, due to the high cost of out-of-state tuition deterring prospective students from other states. But the partnership lives on with the symposium, as wine professionals from all over the Southeast come together to share knowledge and network.
“Finding the Perfect Blend” was the theme of the 2017 symposium, according to Ashley Morrison, SCC division chair. Morrison said that “blending” can be important in many ways. A lot of information was provided on wine blends, where more than one varietal is blended together to make a single wine, as well as blending in the vineyard, where blending possibilities go back to choosing which grapes to plant.
Morrison said these wines blend out the imperfections in grapes, fixing things that are off-kilter and correcting issues that may arise. She also said blends are the fun wines with fun names and interesting labels.
“Blending is not only scientifically important, but artistically important and important for marketing.”
David Bower, SCC enology instructor, said Surry Community College is the only college on the East Coast that teaches the production of sparkling wines. He said, “It’s important for a region to have that one wine they are known for. We don’t have that one wine.”
He thinks sparkling wines may fill that void. Surry teaches the traditional method, the charmat, or bulk method and the encapsulated yeast method. The college’s winery has won several Best Sparkling Wine awards, including one from the NC Fine Wines Competition.
Students from the viticulture and enology departments were an important asset in producing the symposium, according to Morrison. Will Simmons, a student in pursuit of all three certificates Surry offers in viticulture, said, “I’ve always wanted to do it, ever since high school.” He added, “I’m 23 now, so that’s been a while.”
Linda and Wayne Gay, owners of Wautauga Lake Winery, in Butler, Tennessee, have attended the symposium for four out of the last five years.
Wayne Gay said, “We pick up new info. There’s always something new.”
The Gays’ vineyard produced 75,000 pounds of fruit and 2,000 cases of wine last year. Their region was designated as the Appalachian High Country American Viticultural Area in November of last year. AVA designation is usually useful to vineyards but Linda Gay says their operation is being stymied because they are located in Tennessee and all of the other vineyards are in North Carolina. Due to legal restrictions, they are not allowed to do any joint sales. A tablemate at lunch suggested they hold a wine festival on the state line. There is laughter, but general consensus it might be a good idea.
But Linda Gay has already thought of that and yet other legal obstacles make it impossible.
Marion Venable, executive director of SCC’s Foundation, was business manager for the viticulture and enology programs for eight years at SCC before it was a degree program, back when courses were offered through the continuing education department. She assured Linda and Wayne Gay that as winemaking became more important to their area, accommodations for problems such as theirs would begin to be found.