Brock University: Brock students experience Niagara harvest


Harvest is in full swing in the Niagara region and Brock University students got in on the action last week.

As part of their third-year Wine Chemistry course, students in Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture (OEVI) program are tasked with making both a red and white wine and experimenting with different winemaking techniques to see how it changes the final product.

Students began their winemaking projects last week by pressing 300 kilograms of Riesling and 140 kilograms of Gamay Noir.

The project is particularly special for Brock graduate Jessica Solanki (BSc ’21), who is now working as a Lab Demonstrator at the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), after graduating from the Oenology and Viticulture (OEVI) program in 2021.

“I truly valued my time at Brock, especially my OEVI courses,” she said. “It’s where I learned the most and made connections with classmates within the industry, with whom I continue to connect.”

A man fills a carboy with white grape juice.Third-year Oenology and Viticulture student Vince Heck collects Riesling juice for his winemaking project.
Solanki said she is excited to return to the University and to have the opportunity to be on the other side of the classroom, teaching the labs.

“Having this come full circle and having the ability to contribute to the students’ experience in the OEVI course is a dream,” she said. “It is incredible to share my passion with the next generation of growers and winemakers.”

The grapes for the project were generously donated by Solanki’s family, the Oppenlaenders of Huebel Grapes Estates in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“My family knows how important it is that students have ripe, good quality fruit for their winemaking projects,” she said. “It sets them up for success.”

Vince Heck, a third-year OEVI student, said he’s looking forward to working with high-quality fruit and varieties he enjoys.

“I’m excited to get to work with Riesling and Gamay,” he said. “For a lot of us, even those who have worked in the industry, this is the first time we’ve been able to take the reins on the ferment … Even though it’s really small volume, it’s cool to have the opportunity to set up your own fermentation and make all of the relevant decisions.”

For Heck, originally from Alberta, the decision to enrol at Brock “felt like the natural choice,” as the OEVI program is the only undergraduate degree program of its kind in Canada.

“The degree program provides more of a fundamental understanding,” he said. “Especially nowadays, biotech is moving so fast that having a better understanding of the science behind everything just means you will be able to be more flexible moving forward.”

Having worked in wine production in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley prior to attending Brock, Heck said he was excited by the prospect of learning from CCOVI’s researchers.

“You get to develop relationships with people who are experts in their field,” said Heck. “If I had a problem when I was out in the workforce, they are the people who I would go talk to. They’re not just researchers who have a big impact on our industry, but they do a lot of extension work within the industry as well — having a personal relationship and learning straight from the source, is pretty attractive.”

In the coming weeks the students will continue to monitor their wines, while collecting scientific data, in order to evaluate the chemical impact their winemaking decisions had on the final wines.