CIA graduates first 14 students in rich, accelerated program

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ST. HELENA -- At the end of 30 weeks, students in the Accelerated Wine and Beverage Program at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone, have passed two levels of sommelier testing, tasted up to 22 wines a day and are ready to be employed anywhere from fine or casual dining to work in retail, wholesale distribution, wineries, as an instructor, consultant or journalist.

The post graduate certification program began with 14 students last year from all over the country and with a wide range of experiences.

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After getting a political science degree at San Jose State University, 27-year-old Scott Kohan found himself in restaurant management and decided to “follow his dream.” He explored numerous graduate programs and ended up entering the inaugural cohort at the CIA.

“It was scary,” Mr. Kohan said of his decision to spend roughly $35,000 on just 30 weeks of studies.

“This was the first time they offered the program it was a little bit of a gamble,” he said.

He looked at other programs available, but they were mainly master’s programs or programs targeting the hospitality industry and corporate hotels. He was intimidated by the lack of a track record of the program being that it was new, but coming out of it he feels ready for anything.

He appreciates having been able to learn about wine while living in the Napa Valley and how that has provided opportunities to meet masters in their field.

They have had Augustin Huneeus, Michael Weiss, Oz Clarke, and Robin Lail of Lail Vineyards come to the classroom as guest speakers.

The two instructors in the program, Robert Bath and Christie Dufault, led the students over the course of the 30 weeks.

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Mr. Bath has spent more than 30 years in the wine and food industry, managing wine-oriented restaurants, working with many notable California wineries, and teaching thousands around the world about wine.

A third-generation Californian, he passed the Master Sommelier exam in 1993 and is one of 105 Master Sommeliers in the United States and 170 in the world. He has been an adjunct instructor for six years at the institute.

Ms. Dufault has been a sommelier and wine director for a number of restaurants including Gary Danko, Quince and RN74 in San Francisco.  She has been featured on the Food Network, earned the Grand Award for Gary Danko restaurant from the Wine Spectator magazine and has been awarded “Best Wine Director 2007” by San Francisco Magazine.

“It has been incredible to watch these students as their palates transform,” said Mr. Bath.  “Their confidence builds as they are learning to taste wine, beer, spirits, coffee, and tea.  It will be exciting to see where they go and what great things they accomplish once they graduate.”

Mr. Kohan said one of the best things he experienced was being able to get time with some of the industry giants.

“We went to Opus One and we were only supposed to be there for one hour but they kept us there for four hours. We had the same experience at Domaine Carneros and several other places. The winemakers took the time out to talk to us; it made us all feel really good,” he said.

Every day for 30 weeks the students tasted between six and 22 wines per day.

“We tasted wine from every region all over the world,” Mr. Kohan said. “Our program has put all of us in a really unique position to kind of do whatever we want. The industry is big in dollars but small in numbers of people who are trained. We had this hands-on classroom experience to think about things logically.”

The next course starts in September. Up to 24 students will be admitted.

Information can be found at www.ciaprochef.com/winestudies/certification.

“The world is our wine glass,” said Mr. Kohan. “We really have our options open. We have not even graduated and we already have so many opportunities.”