Friday, February 27, 2009

South Beach Wine & Food Festival - FIU School of Hospitality and Tourism Management

About fifteen years ago, the Florida Extravaganza was held at Florida International University's Biscayne Bay Campus in order to raise funds for the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. The event "showcased wines from national and international wineries paired with food from local restaurants and chefs working with students of FIU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management". In 2002, Lee Brian Schrager, Director of Special Events and Media Relations at Southern Wine & Spirits of America moved the event to South Beach and expanded the event to include wine dinners, seminars, and the Grand Tasting Village. As the festival became more popular and visible - particularly with the addition of the Food & Wine Network personalities - there has been one constant South Beach Wine & Food Festival: FIU and the students of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Now the students are not just sitting back and collecting corporate welfare – they are active participants in the festival and for 2009 had the most responsibility to date. Each year the students prepare a main dish that is available at the Grand Tasting Village and this year they added a dessert. The students were also responsible for providing the food for the popular champagne-drenched barbecue party Friday night for approximately 3,000 guests. Some students were even partnered with specific chefs in a mentoring relationship assisting at the Best of the Best and similar events. And to integrate themselves completely into the Wine and Food themed festival several students crafted wine and beer for the event. Actually the wine was the same wine produced last year – it had just been aging in French and American oak between festivals.

On Saturday we targeted FIU’s tent in the Grand Village as our first stop and - over several samples of wine and beer - we learned more about the program from Professor Barry Gump. We learned that the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management provides several courses on these subjects including the Introduction to Brewing Science; Wine Technology; the World of Wine and Food; and The Business of Wine - among many others. Where were these courses in our college? Continuing education looks like a good idea. Professor Gump teaches several of the above courses and guided the students through the many hurdles in crafting the brews and wines. In fact several of his former pupils are now commercial winemakers.

Last year several students suggesting producing a wine for the festival; Professor Gump was able to source Merlot grapes which were fermented and split in half. The first portion was used to make an easy drinking Eastern European styled semi-sweet wine that was served at the 2008 festival three months after bottling. The second portion was also split in half with one half stored in French oak barrels, the other half in American oak barrels. The wine was aged on its lees for the remainder of 2008 before being bottled separately. That is, the wine aged in French oak was bottled separately from the wine aged in American oak. Differences between the two wines were clearly noticeable. The wine aged in French oak was more complex whereas the wine aged in American oak was fruitier. Winemakers have the luxury to sample and blend in the winery so we proceeded with our own blend and added the two together – that was a good combination. However, the environment just didn’t do justice to the wines – it’s difficult to evaluate That’s what beers are for.

Fortunately the FIU students crafted a few for the 2009 festival. Now these aren’t brews created from a beer kit purchased at the local homebrew shop. No, the beer was brewed in the same conditions as any craft brewery. The students must be proficient in chemistry and biology, understand brewing conditions such as gravity and ph levels, and be familiar with yeast strains and hop varieties. The first beer tasted, the Orange IPA, happened to be our overall favorite. India Pale Ales are generally bitter because traditionally, additional hops were added to the brew in order to preserve the beer for long ocean voyages. The student’s were able to balance this hoppiness with enough malt to produce a clean, refreshing ale; the end result was definitely commercial quality. Perfect for the Florida sun. The second beer was a Marzan lager – that intentionally had more malty flavors than the IPA. Unfortunately the CO2 was a little corrupted so once the foam settled – the flavor was slightly flat. The final beer was an English style stout – that means a milky flavor with less bitterness than an Irish stout. The flavor was creamy and full – even the sun couldn’t diminish the flavor. Another nice beer.

At the end of our visit we were able to visit with Daniel Chaviano, who was responsible for the school’s participation in the Grand Tasting Village. Daniel is actually a recent graduate of the school and volunteered to assist his former associates. Being a south Florida native he chose FIU over several other offers because of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management reputation and location. For he associates south Florida and particularly Miami Beach with life – a vitality that isn’t replicated anywhere else in the United States. We couldn’t agree more and think that is one of the major factors that make this event such a success. Oh yea, Daniel was one of the students who crafted the Orange IPA. Good job. Thank you FIU students and Professor Gump for your hospitality. We look forward to tasting your creations next year.

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