Students in Michigan State University’s HB (Hospitality Business) 380 – Event and Meeting Planning Management, taught by Dr. Jeff Beck, will host a New Wine Fundamentals Conference at East Lansing’s Marriott University Place May 4 and 5.

This two-day event will promote a better understanding and retention of fundamental wine information using a newly structured, engaging, and effective flavor-based learning system.

Featured at the conference will be California wine consultant Tim Hanni, MW, and Virginia Utermohlen, MD, who will demonstrate a revolutionary trend in taste science.

Hanni, a professionally trained chef, is one of the first two resident Americans to successfully complete the examination and earn the title Master of Wine. He is a certified wine educator, accredited by the Society of Wine Educators and has been involved with wine- and food-related businesses, education and research for over 35 years.

His techniques for creating easy-to-use wine lists and retail wine programs are combined with tried and tested culinary philosophies on "balancing" food and wine flavors.

These techniques are employed by thousands of restaurants and hotel outlets around the world and have provided the foundation for Napa Seasoning Company's unique new product Vignon, the first flavor balancing seasoning designed to simplify food preparation.

Hanni is recognized for introducing the concept of the "umami" taste phenomenon to the wine and food community. He has lectured in over 27 countries around the world on the topics of flavor balancing, sensory sciences, wine, and culinary history.

Utermohlen completed a medical degree and board certification in pediatrics. The mysteries of flavor perception were, however, never far from her thoughts. Her position in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University has given her the opportunity to explore the science behind individual differences in taste, flavor, and smell sensitivity, and their consequences for food choice, eating attitudes and behavior, and engagement in visual experience (of wine labels, for example).

It comes down to physiology, according to Hanni, whose system involves analyzing people’s taste buds, and acknowledging that “people live in different sensory worlds.”

A recent Washington Post article explained his system, describing how, after examining two men’s tongues through an industrial magnifying glass, “Hanni labeled one man a ‘tolerant’ taster because he had fewer taste buds and tended to prefer ripe, concentrated wines.”

The other man, “with more taste buds, is a ‘sensitive’ taster and usually likes more balanced wines without strong tannins.” Other labels, created by Hanni, are “hypersensitive,” who like delicate, slightly sweeter wines; and “sweet,” who are also hypersensitive, and confident in their taste, with little interest in cultivating a taste for drier wines.

Hanni explains that consumers who know their types can then buy wines that are at the top of their class for their palates. And to that end, he has developed a “Budometer,” with the help of two sensory scientists at UC Davis. It is a survey designed to help consumers gauge their tastes.

Dr. Carl Borchgrevink, associate professor in TheSchool of Hospitality Business, contracted with the students in HB 380 to produce the conference. They created Spartan Hospitality Business Conferences LLC to plan, organize, finance, market, and professionally deliver the event. 

Borchgrevink says: “We are excited to bring Hanni and Utermohlen and their New Wine Fundamentals mini-conference to campus. Their research goes a long way towards explaining why different people often experience the same wine very differently.

“The knowledge and insights they will share can be the key that hospitality businesses, wine retailers, wineries and all others that may sell or recommend wine need to provide their (potential) consumers of wine with an experience that they as consumers will find delicious and thus satisfying.”

He continues, “This will be a high-energy, fun, new way to approach wine that will have implications for wine tastings, wine lists, the pairing of wine with food, and just about any aspect of the wine experience. Wine professionals, including educators, restaurateurs, wine makers and winery owners will find it to be very valuable as the program will help them sell wine and generate repeat sales by providing each consumer with the wine experience that is right for them.”

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