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The Geology and Wines of California and France

Monday, January 11, 2016

Course Description

This course is designed for curious people who enjoy wine, especially wine from California and France, and would like to learn more about it. We will examine the connection between wines and their terroir—the complete natural environment in which a wine is produced—and learn why “place” and its geologic history—along with the grapes, their viticulture, the climate, and the winemaker’s skills—are all crucial to the characteristics of wines. We will explore the geologic setting of wine regions in California and France and with comparative tastings form the basis for understanding why certain grapes seem to prosper and others do not. As we delve into the geologic history of wine country, we will also learn about the geography, the wines, the names, and the history of numerous wine regions in California and France. By the end of the course, we will have gained a better understanding of why wines are a reflection of “place” and have firsthand knowledge of many of the tastes that result. The wines we will taste will be comparable from both Old World (France) and New World (California) wineries: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, Bordeaux and Bordeauxstyle blends, and Rhone and Rhone-varietal blends. 

In order to participate in tasting discussions, students will spend approximately $160–$200 on California and French wines. A wine list will be provided at the start of the course. Students will taste the wines in advance of the optional online videoconferencing sessions (which will be recorded and posted). During these sessions, students will compare notes and discuss aspects of terroir, winemaking styles, flavor characteristics, etc. 

Please be aware that some of the optional activities in this course include the consumption of alcohol. Students enrolling in this course must be either: at least 21 years of age (if a resident of the United States), or of legal drinking age for the country in which they reside. 

Please note: Stanford Continuing Studies will offer a separate course excursion to Napa this Spring. The course, led by instructor David Howell, will review the 140 million-year history of the valley, the origin of the mountains and the valley itself, and processes of sedimentation that characterize many of the valley floor vineyards. Participants will examine how elements of topography, climate, and soil, essential elements of terroir, have been used to subdivide Napa into fourteen distinct viticultural areas. The course will focus on Oakville, with vineyard and winery visits along with tastings. Students will also meet with winemakers and vineyard managers. For more information, please see the Spring 2016 catalogue (available in February 2016). While this course excursion builds upon Winter’s “The Geology and Wines of California and France” (GEO 03 W), each can be taken independently as well.