In a country where chefs are the rock stars of restaurants, wine is making huge strides in terms of sales.
Recent articles indicate that the U.S. ranks highest in wine consumption, edging out those more traditionally associated with the grape, such as Italy and France.
Now, the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management is ensuring students pursuing careers in the growing field of beverage management are ready for expanding opportunities in the industry with its new Spec's Beverage and Food Appreciation Lab.
The $750,000 facility, made possible by a donation from the Spec's Charitable Foundation and the Rydman Family, seats up to 80 people for wine appreciation classes and industry training. It is the only one of its kind in the region.
"Our lab has individual sinks, natural light and back-lit white boards to evaluate a wine's color. It has a multi-purpose design, so it can also be used in the sensory evaluation of food and other beverages, like distilled spirits and coffee," says Dr. Chris Taylor, director of the beverage management program and the Fred Parks Wine Cellar. "There are some things you can't do without the right tool. This is the right tool."
Beverage management touches all aspects of the hospitality industry. From hotels and restaurants to events and cruise lines, knowledge of wine, in particular, is an important tool in the industry toolbox.
With this expertise, students can pursue careers in pricing systems and sales, storage and cellar management, training and marketing, and as sommeliers. Taylor says only a few universities in the country have dedicated facilities to research and evaluate wine.
The Hilton College program, like the industry, has grown. It began as a single wine-appreciation class in the 1980s. Today, students pursuing bachelor degrees in the hospitality industry may specialize in wine and spirits management. Additionally, any student may elect to minor in beverage management.
Future plans for the program include a new beer and wine production lab.
"We want our students to come out of this program, whether you're minoring in the program from this college or another college on campus, confident, well trained, and able to make positive contributions to the hospitality industry," Taylor says.