Global wine course in unlikely place
Amy Mumma chose central Washington as the venue for her “Wine Odyssey.”
In a setting more associated with rodeos, sagebrush, and open space than wine, Amy Mumma is reaching both professionals and consumers with her Wine World Program.
As program coordinator and instructor at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Mumma has developed a wide variety of wine courses offered through the university’s continuing education program. Courses include an on-line wine trade professional certificate program, minor degree in wine trade and tourism, short courses for consumers, and custom-designed trade training for wine and related businesses (like wineries, restaurants, bankers, retailers, economic and tourism companies) that can be taught on-site or at the Ellensburg campus.
Topics discussed in the trade training range from wine faults and palate training to conducting consumer tasting and educational events and marketing strategies for small wineries.
During a recent class that completed a consumer series called “A Wine Odyssey: in Depth,” more than 200 adults spent two hours on a Friday evening learning about Washington wines. Previous Odyssey classes focused on the wine regions of California, France, and Italy, with attendees tasting eight wines during each session. The Washington focus combined education with sampling wines from 20 different wineries representing nearly all nine appellations in the state.
To help “demystify” the world of wine for consumers, Mumma uses a fun and lighthearted approach to teaching.
“Wine can be really confusing and intimidating,” she said, adding that some industry jargon can be hard for consumers to understand.
“I talk about AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), heat units, what reserve wines mean, and such, to help take the mystique out of wine.”
For instance, in Washington, reserve wines must be made from 100 percent of grapes grown in the state and can be no more than 10 percent or a maximum of 3,000 cases of that winery’s production for that year, she explained. Reserve is not a term that is legally defined, leaving wineries in other states to make up their own definitions.
Mumma noted that the Washington wine industry is growing fast, with wineries in the state now numbering more than 400. But most produce fewer than 5,000 cases annually.
Washington wines are sold in all 50 states and in 40 countries and contribute about $3 billion to the state’s economy. While the state ranks second in the nation in wine production, it is vastly out-shadowed by California’s wine industry at $45 billion with more than 1,350 wineries, she said.
About 70 percent of the wines produced in the world retail for under $7 per 750-ml bottle, Mumma noted.
“But Washington is known as a premium wine producer with wines retailing at an average of $8 per bottle,” Mumma said. Premium wines are those that retail for $7 per 750-ml bottle and above, while ultra-premium wines retail for $14 and up.
“It takes a lot of money to make good wine,” she said in defending the higher wine prices in Washington. French oak barrels are expensive, costing upwards of $1,000. Also, vineyard yields in the state are purposely kept small by the growers to keep grape quality high.
Mumma entertainingly weaves the state’s wine industry history into her presentation as well as stories of how the geological forces (Glacial Lake Missoula) scoured the landscape and deposited free-draining soils throughout eastern Washington. Growers’ ability to control irrigation allows them to produce small berries that she describes as having vibrant fruit flavor and structure, excellent acidity, and dense tannins.
“What you get in Washington that is not found in many other places is vibrancy and great structure—what I call the spine and backbone of a wine,” she said. “The structure of a wine is a solid foundation that is balanced from the moment the wine enters the mouth until you swallow.”
Ellensburg, though not synonymous with wine production, is centrally located in the state, Mumma said. And the university is known for its strength in the education and business fields.
“I came to CWU to create a global wine program,” she said. “California has a lot of schools involved in teaching the business and marketing aspects of the wine industry. I identified CWU because of the lack of global wine business programs in the state.”
Her program is designed to complement wine industry courses offered at Washington State University, Walla Walla Community College, Yakima Valley Community College, and other colleges.
“I don’t teach how to grow grapes or make wine,” Mumma said, adding that other schools provide degrees for viticulture and enology. “I come at it from the global business aspect and global trade structures.”
Through the program, which is starting its fourth year, she has taught more than 1,000 consumers and conducted wine trade training for some 1,500 employees of wine-related companies in the United States and Mexico. Thirty-six have graduated from the certificated wine professional course.
Mumma’s interest in wine began as a child as she grew up with wine always on the dinner table. She later studied at the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France, and lived with a French family that was in the wine industry, exposing her to the European wine business of wine brokers, buyers, and traders.
She was recognized for her wine passion and professionalism last year by being named the world’s top female wine professional from among more than 150 nominees from 20 countries, winning the first annual “Wine Women Awards” competition. In addition to her duties at CWU, she is a candidate in the Master of Wine program and serves as a wine judge.
For more information, visit www.cwuce.org/wine-education.