“This is the only one of its kind between the two coasts,” says Chris Taylor, surveying the gleaming stemware, handsome décor and state-of-the-art lab equipment. It’s a place guaranteed to make any wine lover’s nostrils flare with delight.
Taylor is the director of the Beverage Management Program and the Fred Parks Wine Cellar at Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. And he’s downright bubbly about the school’s new Spec’s Beverage & Food Appreciation Laboratory.
“This represents a huge commitment. We have an opportunity to make a national and global impact within the industry. We’ll be in the preeminent status in beverage management,” he says.
When you are routinely ranked among the top hospitality colleges in the country, and your university is ranked Tier One, your laboratory space to teach and train has to reflect that same standard of excellence. That’s precisely what this one does.
Specifically designed to instruct the next generation of hospitality professionals, the 2,210-square-foot, $750,000, wine-tasting lab seats up to 62 people for wine-appreciation classes and industry training. Located on the college’s first-floor, south wing, the new facility features individual sinks, natural light and back-lit white boards used to evaluate a wine’s color. Stations also feature gridded wine-holding stations, so wines stay in the order they were distributed.
Taylor says only a handful of universities in the country have dedicated facilities to research and evaluate wine.
Still, with stadium seating providing clear views of multiple screens for presentations or videos, the lab’s multipurpose design allows it to be used in sensory evaluation of food, along with evaluation of other beverages, such as distilled spirits and coffees.
“There are some things you can’t do without the right tool. This is the right tool,” Taylor says.
The lab was constructed during the summer of 2014 and officially opened for the fall semester. The Rydman family, owner of Spec’s Wine, Spirits & Finer Foods, is the principal donor to the project.
“We’ve been committed to the college from the beginning, because we think education is important in this world. It’s as simple as that,” said John Rydman. “The beverage lab is all about education, and it gives the college a proper arena to be serious about tasting. Knowledge learned from this lab will also make students more marketable, and that’s a win-win for them and the industry.”
Funding support also comes from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
With expertise learned at the Hilton College in facilities such as the new wine lab, students will be equipped to pursue careers in pricing systems and sales, storage and cellar management, training and marketing and as sommeliers.
“I was in the first class to use the facility. It was for Dr. Taylor’s Wine Appreciation class,” says Trey Cooley, a junior hotel and restaurant management major who is minoring in food and beverage marketing. “It helped expand my knowledge and palate of wines from many different areas of the world. The new lab separates the Hilton College from any other program, and I know it will give potential students even more incentive to join our amazing program because we have these awesome features.”
Beverage management touches all aspects of the hospitality industry, from hotels and restaurants to events and cruise lines. A strong foundation in college can be the springboard to a successful career in the industry. Guy Stout, master sommelier and corporate director of beverage education with Glazer’s Family of Companies, says the new addition at the Hilton College is impressive.
“Spec’s has gone over the top with this tasting lab,” he says. “You’d have to go to the Culinary Institute of America in New York or to Napa to get this type of learning environment. I am an instructor for the master sommelier class each fall. The new tasting lab just makes it a better environment to teach.”
The college’s Beverage Management Program, like the industry, has grown. It began as a single wine-appreciation class in the 1980s. Today, students pursuing bachelor degrees in the hospitality industry can specialize in wine and spirits management. Additionally, any student at the University can minor in beverage management. Each area works with industry experts to ensure students’ coursework and internships are relevant to the workplace.
Future plans for the Beverage Management Program include a new beer and wine production lab. So, start getting ready for Coogs Lite and Chateau Shasta.