When faced with the choice of what to drink at a party, students often feel they only have two options, cheap, watery beer or hard liquor filled with regret. While both appeal to the student’s stretched budget, a third option exists and is often left behind: wine.
College students will be the first to tell you, they are no strangers to alcohol. But what they know little about is wine: the alcohol that makes California the vineyard state.
According to the Wine Institute, there are nearly 5,000 wineries in California and 23.6 million tourists are drawn from around the world to visit them. The United States is the world’s fourth leading wine producer, only behind Italy, France and Spain.
Despite her business being in close proximity to SF State, Stephanie. McCardell, the owner of Que Syrah Wine Bar in West Portal, says she rarely gets an influx of young customers.
“We just don’t get a whole lot of very young people here and I’m not exactly sure why,” said McCardell. “Wine tasting is an experience you can learn so much from.”
According to Jude Gallegos, a psychology major and theatre minor at SF State, a popular criticism of wine is that it just doesn’t do the job.
“If people want to get drunk faster at a party then that’s when they start buying harder liquor instead of wine,” Gallegos said. While Gallegos and her friends have grown to like wine, the interest in it alone is not enough to spend free time learning about it.
“I enjoy learning about wine but I don’t go out of my way to research it. It’s not a priority of mine. If I happen to enjoy the wine then I’m going to drink it.”
McCardell prides Que Syrah in being an educational place that hosts regular events, each with a unique theme and different wines to offer.
“We want people to know where the wine they are drinking comes from, down to the village in France where the grapes were grown,” McCardell said. “We try to provide that opportunity for people to learn about what they are drinking through our tasting events.”
With wine flights rotating weekly, starting at $13.50, Que Syrah stands as an affordable way for students to get their feet wet in the world of wine without spending significantly more than they would at other bars in the area.
For instance, the Dubliner, Philosopher’s Club and Portal’s Tavern, which are all located on the same strip less than five minutes away, charge anywhere from $5 to $7 for a bottle of beer. The SF State school bar is even higher, with pints of draft beer starting at $8 and their infamous Sangria for $8 a glass.
At Que Syrah, you can taste three different half-glasses of wine that are specially sourced and paired together for just a few dollars more. They’ll even provide recommendations for cheeses that will complement what you are drinking.
Nevertheless, millennials still prefer drinking beer to wine, with a research study by 12 Keys confirming that of all the alcohol college students purchased in store in 2012, 47.7 percent was beer, with wine trailing behind at 39.7 percent.
For Caitlin Neal, a fashion student at Academy of Art University, it’s not just about the alcohol content.
“The taste can just be so bitter and strong. It’s definitely an acquired taste.” Neal said.
Ryan Smith, a professor in the hospitality and tourism management department at SF State, offered his opinion on why students may not be as interested in wine as they are other alcoholic beverages.
“With students there is a cost-benefit analysis. If you only have $10 and you’re at the grocery store, will you really buy a random bottle of wine when you know nothing about it?”
Smith said the answer is easy, “Probably not. You’d rather buy something you already know.”
In addition, Smith said the idea of a wine party can discourage students who are on a budget.
“Wine parties seem expensive. Not just because of the wine itself but because you usually buy food to go with it.”
However, Smith, who teaches Food, Wine, and Culture in California in the hospitality and tourism management department, said that his students take an interest in wine once they learn the foundation of how it is made.
“There are some young people that think you need to drink wine because you’re an adult and adults drink it,” Smith said. “But there is an excitement from students learning the basics of wine and all the factors that go into making it. My experience is that when they learn about the different theories surrounding wine, they become curious and want to try new things.”
Smith encourages students to think of tasting new wines how one thinks about trying any new foods. He says it can take time, depending on the person, to fully understand the nuances and differences between different varieties. Understanding how a certain type of wine is made can help grow appreciation for it.
“If you eat something you’ve never tried before and you like it, you’ll know it’s good. That’s important. But if you know about what you are buying, what went into making it, it’s a different experience. It can take time but you will appreciate it more,” said Smith.
Former student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and wine amateur turned enologist, Sandra Oilar, contests that young people in California are in the best possible position to learn about wine and become familiar with it.
“There are wineries and tasting rooms everywhere. You couldn’t ask for a better area for getting into wine,” said Oilar.
According to Oilar, Californians are especially lucky because the entire state offers options for exploring wine culture. From Sonoma to Napa, Santa Cruz, the Central Coast stretching from Paso Robles to Santa Barbara, to Temecula outside of San Diego, even the most urban areas in the state are seeing wineries continuing to pop up.
As an enologist, Oilar has taken an interest in the science side of the wine industry, where she works in a lab to routinely troubleshoot problematic wines. She does this by running trials to change various characteristics of a batch, including acidity, mouthfeel, flavor and aroma.
She insists that while five years working for Enartis USA has given her years of on-the-job training that are responsible for her expansive knowledge about the winemaking process, that she started off as an eager college graduate who knew little to nothing.
“I got my degree in chemistry from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and was surrounded by wineries. It seemed like an obvious choice,” she explained. “But I came in as a full-on nerdy chemist who liked wine but didn’t know anything about the process of making it.”
She says she has learned that while everyone ends up having their favorite drinks, whether it be beer, a mixed drink or wine, the only way to know for sure what you like is through trial and error. She recommends going wine tasting with friends to experiment.
“Why would you potentially limit yourself from finding your match? Because it might just end up being wine. Build your appreciation and palate for wine with the more wines you drink. Start now. Just make sure you have a designated driver.”