Some college graduates might contemplate their future employment over a glass of wine. But the wine they’re sipping could soon be made by University of Texas at Tyler students who are getting paid for it.
Through a collaboration with a local vineyard, four UT Tyler fermentation science program students have paying jobs as wine cellar hands gaining valuable experience.
For about three weeks, the students have been working at the Kierpersol Winery seeing how science is applied to real-life fermentation. Some of their tasks include operating instruments, cleaning, packaging and general harvesting.
Dr. Jordan Beaver, UT Tyler assistant professor of chemistry and head of the fermentation science track, said this is the first collaboration since the fermentation science program began last year.
Under the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the program features courses over brewing science, small scale production, chemistry in grape and wine production and distillation.
The bulk of the students’ work at Kiepersol is sanitation and using lab work to meet the proper flavor and chemical profile, Beaver said.
Senior chemistry major Claire Lamberti said she enjoys seeing the food chemistry element within wine production.
“I like the really unique experience,” Lamberti said. “I can honestly say I’ve experienced anything like this.”
Alex Lee, Kiepersol winemaker, said he’s grateful to have the students help with the winemaking. He said Kiepersol has collaborated with others in the past, but not to this level of involvement.
“I’m learning a lot in the process myself,” Lee said.
The grapes from Kiepersol’s vineyard get sorted into a machine to remove stems and leaves, and then continue through the fermentation process. Students work with the machines to create the perfect wine profile.
Working at Kiepersol provides the students with several practical skills they may not learn in the laboratory. About 80% of the work is keeping equipment and products clean, Lee said.
“They’re performing wonderfully. I hope they learn a lot about working in a live environment, not just a lab,” Lee said. “This is about feeling the grapes, experiencing and understanding the nuance that the grapes can give. This isn’t grape juice that old people drink.”
Beaver said the demand is high for fermentation science and its creations like alcoholic beverages, biopharmaceuticals and biofuels. With bar closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said there is a trend of needing workers on the production side.
Beaver added it’s a mutually beneficial relationship between the students, who get paid and learn about fermentation, and Kiepersol.
The harvest began Monday and Beaver said it’s exciting to see the students learn common techniques of fermentation.
Claire Mounce, sophomore business major, said while she came to Kiepersol for the money, she’s gotten a lot more than what she bargained for.
“I’m learning a whole lot about the brewing and winemaking industry,” Mounce said. “It’s just been a good time all around.”
As a business major, she’s enjoying seeing different styles of management and leadership at Kiepersol. Mounce said she’s gained discipline, endurance and a way to round out her education.
A fermentation science program is about working on research while on the job, Beaver said.
“For me, that’s what really drew me to the field,” Beaver said. “One of the big things that drew me to fermentation science was going out into the field and getting your hands dirty. You can go into the store and say, ‘I made that. That’s my project.’”
Students working at Kierpersol should become more comfortable with their lab skills.
“I hope they enjoy their time there and get a better appreciation of the production side of things,” Beaver said.
Beaver said there are plans for an online introductory fermentation science class for students needing a common curriculum science credit. He also hopes to have a minor or major for fermentation science available in the future.
ETX Brewing Co. was one of the first to suggest an educational program for fermentation science, he said.
Beaver said community involvement is a major part of the university’s fermentation science program.
“We as a program are here to primarily serve our students and community,” Beaver said. “We’re more than willing to help out in any way we can.”
Beaver and Lee both hope that the partnership program between Kiepersol and UT Tyler’s fermentation science program can grow to further develop the industry locally.