Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 29th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Wines, Vines and Our Economic Times

wine_cheeseAfter the cancellation of Cabrillo’s wine education classes, instructor Sue Slater makes the case for learning more about what’s in the bottle
Local wine expert Sue Slater believes wine will improve your life.

As she energetically articulates her case for the importance of wine—tasting it, knowing about it, sharing it—she evokes an attorney passionately defending a client who has been wrongly accused.

“Wine is a food group in most European countries,” Slater says. “But here it’s viewed as a vice instead of something that will enhance your life and your experience.”

It is understandable that Slater is feeling the need to defend her passion. Recent budget difficulties at Cabrillo College have led administrators to cut Slater’s wine education classes from the culinary arts program as part of a broader attempt to close an anticipated $5 million budget gap.

Slater initiated these classes 11 years ago when she realized her culinary arts students knew almost nothing about wine. “They didn’t know how to open a bottle,” she says.

Slater feels that the general public is equally as woefully misinformed about wine. She says that for most people a wine list at a restaurant might as well be a “trigonometry test.”

In her classes, Slater helped her students learn about the different elements that influence the taste of wine, including the geography, politics, and climate of the different wine regions. After a lecture, her students sample wines and discuss the reasons, say, a zinfandel from the Sierra Foothills might taste different from a zinfandel from Paso Robles. “People sign up for classes thinking they’re going to swirl a merlot after work, talk about the lovely bouquet, and then go home and have their TV dinners,” Slater says. “But I try to warn them that it really is academic.”

Slater’s goal for her students was for them to be able to look at the label on a bottle of wine and have a solid understanding of what’s in the bottle.

According to Slater, this knowledge will not only improve their dining experiences—by being able to predict which wine will go best with the food they are eating—but also can lead to real economic benefits. She reports that those who have taken her classes are “snatched up” by local restaurants because few in the industry can speak confidently about wine. Students of hers who work as servers boast of higher tips from being able to recommend a good wine to go with each meal.

And then there are the lifers: students of hers who have turned wine into their vocation.

After taking Slater’s classes in 2006 and 2007, Katie Vandermause left her job in press relations for the NFL to work for a small, family-owned vineyard in Napa. She now works for Consellation Wineries—one of the largest wine distributors in the United States. “I worked in the NFL for eight or nine years and loved it, but I don’t think I’ll go back,” she says. “The wine world is really exciting and there is always something to learn.”

Mikael Wargin took his first class with Slater in 2004. A biochemistry student from UC Santa Cruz, Wargin was working as a landscaper when he became interested in viniculture. Today he works fulltime for MJA Vineyards, a local Santa Cruz winery. He’s also started his own label, an Italian Blend called “Big and Beautiful.”

“It’s a good time,” Wargin says of his job. “It’s sun, it’s clean air, it’s good food. I’ve got a joke: If you’ve got to make money, do this. If you don’t, then stay home and drink wine.”

Many current Cabrillo students are upset at the class cancellations. “It’s really disappointing because those classes correlate greatly with the culinary arts program,” says culinary arts student Erica Tovar, who now is looking for wine classes to take outside of Cabrillo.

Cabrillo College president Brian King is sympathetic, but points out that cuts have been made to classes in every program the college offers. “We understand that the classes that we’re forced to eliminate are classes about which people have passions,” King says. “The students are bearing the brunt of the problems in Sacramento and the inability to locate the revenues our state needs.”

In these tough economic times, it is understandable how some might see wine as frivolous, though Slater insists that these times are exactly when we may need a reminder to relax and enjoy a glass.

“We’re doing too much and we’re running too fast,” she says. “We don’t sit down and eat with each other anymore. And if you have a bottle of wine, maybe you’ll sit down and the bottle of wine on the table is going to lengthen the meal. It’s going to enhance the meal. And maybe we’ll talk to each other more.”

Sue Slater recommends three local wineries to jumpstart your wine education: Odonata Wines at, Storrs Winery at, and Windy Oaks at

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Cathy Bentley-Smith, July 07, 2011
I started taking Sue's wine classes in 2006, and haven't stopped. I really did get sucked in. They were AWESOME! And hard. As a result, I sold my business in 2009 and changed careers. Now I work full time at MJA Vineyards doing all the PR, marketing, events and wine club management. There's no way I'd have this job without taking the wine classes. The business relationships and friends I have now are all because of my love for wine.

I'm in a winemaking group that started as a result of the Winemaking class that Sue helped create. We started making our own wines during the 2009 vintage and have increased our production each year. We'll enter our wines into the County Fair this year in the amateur category.

To say that wine classes is frivolous is ridiculous. Ask any of us.

Go to Facebook: "Save Wine Education at Cabrillo" to post comments and help support the wine classes.

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Santa Cruz Gives

A look at the organizations we’re asking you to support in our new holiday giving campaign


Gratitude—For Each New Morning With its Light

The full moon of Wednesday brings light to Thanksgiving (Thursday) under the Sagittarius Sun and Mercury. Mercury in Sag offers humanity the message (Mercury) of thankfulness and joy (Jupiter). No other sign represents food, music and joy better than Sagittarius (only Pisces, when not in despair). Beginning on Thanksgiving, we can list what we’re grateful for. Then we can continue the list, creating a daily Gratitude Journal. What we are grateful for always increases in our lives. On Thanksgiving Saturn/Neptune square (challenging) is in full effect. This can manifest as traditions not being honored, disappearing, falling away. It can also create a sense of sadness, confusion, of things not working out as planned. It’s best to be as simple as possible. And to focus on gratitude instead. Gratitude is a service to others. It is scientifically and occultly a releasing agent. Releasing us from the past, allowing our future—the new culture and civilization, the new Aquarian laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarius, the Age of Friendship and Equality—to come forth. Gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution for humanity and the world’s problems.” The hierarchy lays great emphasis upon expressing gratitude. Gratitude illuminates all that is in darkness. Let us be grateful during this season together. Being, for others, the light that illuminates the darkness. A Poem by R.W. Emerson: We are grateful … “For each new morning with its light/For rest and shelter of the night/For health and food/For love and friends/For everything thy goodness sends.” (poem by R.W. Emerson). I am grateful for my family of readers.


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Pluck of the Irish

Mid-century immigrant tale engagingly told in ‘Brooklyn’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Second Street Café

Pies and tarts for all tastes—from traditional to adventurous


How are you preparing for El Niño?

Getting ready to buy some rain gear. Cory Pickering, Santa Cruz, Teaching Assistant


Fortino Winery

Cabernet and superb fruit wine from Fortino Winery


Tap Dance

West End Tap & Kitchen’s impressive menu to expand to Eastside location