Hebrew University Starts Viticulture Program | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Hebrew University Starts Viticulture Program

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“I think we are the only academic viticulture program in the world that goes with nature,” noted Prof. Zohar Kerem, founder of Hebrew University’s new International Viticulture and Enology Master of Science (MSc) program.

“We start the course of study in the vineyard, just as the vine’s growing cycle begins anew.”

The aptly-named Kerem (kerem is a vineyard in Hebrew) is a food chemist and a world-renowned researcher in wine and olive oil quality.

The HU program is the only one of its kind in Israel and aims to be Israel’s home-grown equivalent to enology programs like the ones at University of California at Davis (here in America), Bordeaux University (France), and the University of Adelaide (Australia).

There are, to be sure, other wine courses to be found in Israel. There is, for example, a technical winemaking course held at Ramat Gan College, there is the Cellar Master Course held at Tel Hai College, a ‘winemaking school’ at the Sorek Winery in Tal Shahar, and a winemaking course at the University Center at Ariel, in the Shomron. These are just courses, however, not an accredited comprehensive academic degree offering.

This program is a rigorous 20 months (four consecutive semesters), including classes, hands-on learning in vineyards and wineries in Israel, a professional workshop abroad in Italy or France at the end of the program, and a practical internship at a commercial winery in Israel or abroad.

Instruction is in English to accommodate international students; the program currently has students from as far afield as the US, Canada, China, and the Ukraine.

Classes and labs (based in Rehovot) run from early morning Thursdays to Friday afternoon, so the whole rest of the week is unstructured— “you’ll wind up becoming very intimately acquainted with Israel,” remarked Kerem. “Some take winery internships which we help with, some take an ulpan. They can do so many different things with their time before they return home.”

Students learn about grapevines and vineyards including such topics as soil, water, fertilization and meteorology, grapevine anatomy and physiology, principles of grapevine growing with an emphasis on semi-arid zones and global warming, pests, weeds, and grapevine diseases. They also study the principles of wine production and study the hands-on application, including such topics as wine production equipment, wine packaging, winery operations, micro-vinification, wine chemistry and stability, and wine microbiology.

The program also covers wine analysis, including analysis of grape must, biosynthesis of artificial flavors and aromas in grapes and wine, sensory evaluation of different kinds of wine, and also wine flaw identification. Students in this program will also study more general but essential wine industry topics like economics, management and marketing (including digital marketing), environmental influences of viticulture and wine production, as well as innovations in wine and in vineyard practices.

There are a variety of other features that distinguish their program from others around the globe. “We are the only program,” notes Kerem, “that teaches ‘blending’ as a [formal] topic or course [five four-hour classes)—one of the most important activities for a winemaker; there is almost nothing more important than blending.” Most winemakers with academic training learn blending on the job but not as part of their formal instruction.

“Imagine,” he says, warming to his theme, “that pre-Pesach—when wineries earn their livings in Israel—the owner or CEO of the winery comes to the winemaker and says, ‘I want 25,000 liters of wine that will taste this way and that will cost that much per bottle.’ So, the winemaker needs to know what’s the value of the wine in each tank and how to combine them to get the target taste and character profile at the desired cost. They need to be able to do this across the winery, from the cheapest high-volume wines to the highest-end flagship wines. Nobody teaches this in university coursework. So, we introduced this as a formal course in our program.”

Obviously, wine kashrut is also a big part of the Israeli industry, and students get a comprehensive course in this too with guest lecturers from one of the main kosher certification agencies.

The Hebrew University degree offering is the first and, so far, only MSc program in winemaking in Israel— “the only program in the entire middle east,” notes Kerem wryly—and the only one approved by Israel’s National Council for Higher Education.

It is also tailored it to fit Israel’s various climate and soils, so that students are not simply learning about viticulture from an academic textbook-like vantage point, but from the a firmly-grounded distinctly Israeli perspective.

“Our students get to see many different varieties, many many different soil structures—which is very important for the vine to grow; different climactic conditions—from the desert where we grow vines in the desert and we irrigate, all the way to the upper Golan Heights where the combination of all the growing conditions—the weather, the rainfall, the temperatures—is very much [like] Bordeaux, but on a volcanic ash [soil], which is very unlike Bordeaux. They get to see everything.”

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