OSU trains 60 wine tasters for study

New OSU-trained taste testers will evaluate experimental wines
Dick Erath
OSU Extension Office

Oregon’s wine industry will now be able to better understand how what it’s doing in its vineyards and vats affects the quality of its final product thanks to a new cadre of tasting experts trained by Oregon State University.

James Osborne, an enologist with the OSU Extension Service, trained 60 Oregon winemakers earlier this year with funding from a $25,000 donation from the Erath Family Foundation. The winemakers – all unpaid volunteers – learned to use a sensory method called free-choice profiling that allows them to use their own vocabulary to describe the color, aroma, taste and “mouthfeel” of wines.

Groups of tasters will gather several times a year for refresher trainings and to evaluate experimental wines made by OSU and Oregon’s commercial wine industry. For example, this summer, the newly minted tasters will put their adjectives to use when they evaluate Pinot noir made from grapes harvested at Stoller Vineyards in Dayton and Maple Ranch Vineyard in Cave Junction.

The grapes were part of studies conducted by Patty Skinkis, a viticulturist with the OSU Extension Service. She and her crew snipped off different amounts of grape clusters at various times. Their goal was to determine how much fruit should be left on a vine and when it should be thinned to produce the highest quality wine. In blind taste tests, panelists will sample various wines made from the different thinning techniques.

“They might, for example, find that wines produced from some treatments have more spicy and clovey characteristics, while other treatments result in wines that have more herbaceous notes,” said Osborne, a member of the Oregon Wine Research Institute.

In other future evaluations, the tasters will evaluate how different strains of yeast and bacteria affect the quality of wine.

Dick Erath, president of the Erath Family Foundation and founder of Erath Winery, said the panelists will help see how grape-growing and winemaking practices affect what ultimately ends up in a glass.

“You really need to have a tasting panel so you can find out if these practices really are beneficial to the wine from a consumer’s point of view,” Erath said after a recent recognition ceremony on the OSU campus. “It’s amazing how just little things can change how wines appear and smell. That all comes out in a sensory panel.”

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