When senior enology student Brenna Pratt started working at the Fresno State Winery in fall 2019, little did she know she would eventually help create its first Graduate’s Reserve blend as she prepared to graduate herself.
The special red wine blend, honoring the 2021 graduating class, was developed with campus winemaker Tom Montgomery and fellow graduating senior Henry Kampen. Made from several of the winery’s classic varietals, its Barbera, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel grapes were harvested in fall 2019 from the campus vineyard and other fine wine regions around the state.
The wine is available for presale online for $12 a bottle. A discount of 10% is available for website orders of two or more bottles. Delivery or pick-up will begin May 10, and only 30 cases of the 100-case run remain.
The trio started the creation process by picking six of their favorite red wines from the barrel room, then individually came up with potential blends. After a taste test, they picked the best option.
“This is a special wine, especially since it relates directly to my wine blending independent study,” Pratt said. “Our Petite Sirah vintage (from Contra Costa) is fantastic, but we’re not releasing it as a stand-alone vintage this year, so this will be the only chance to taste it, and it’s 50% of the blend. Combining it with Barbera from campus and Zinfandel from the Amador County gives it a very creative blend that’s both beautiful and complex.”
The new edition is extra special to her, since it includes grapes from the first lots she processed at the campus winery, and she has since helped manage in tanks and barrels. The process has been part of an intense, student winemaking position that is full-time in the summer and 20 hours a week during most of the academic year.
“The campus winery has given me such a great foundation of hands-on experience in every step of the process,” Pratt said, “as well as soft skills, too. There’s a lot of coordination among our team, and I feel confident that after I graduate I can walk in anywhere and know what to expect.”
That commitment has paid off as she looks forward to a fall internship with Desperada Wines in Paso Robles. After that, she might work internationally in New Zealand in early 2022 during its wine grape harvest, before she potentially returns to continue her career in California.
Before she started at the campus winery, she also got hands-on experience in classes and conducted campus vineyard research with enology faculty Dr. Miguel Pedroza.
That summer research project focused on creating grape imaging evaluation software that evaluated mature winegrapes based on color. She collected samples to determine grape chemistry at various stages prior to harvest to create profiles for ripeness, weight, sugars and other characteristics related to specific grape skin colors.
All of this is even more impressive considering she had no prior experience in winemaking or grape growing before she transferred to Fresno State in fall 2018.
She initially enrolled at California State University, Channel Islands, intending to major in environmental science, before she transferred after her second year. While considering her options, her mother, Amy, researched Fresno State’s top programs, and suggested she look at its enology degree.
“She was right on,” Pratt said. “It had a little bit of everything I wanted. It was science-based, yet still really creative, hands-on and applicable. I also really liked the feel of the campus and the wide variety of viticulture and enology facilities and on-campus vineyard it offered.”
As a former high school state points division champion, she also competed on a state champion team at Crescenta Valley High School that was coached by her father, Ken.
That commitment she learned from racing for almost a decade has carried over to her time at the campus winery.
“There’s a lot of bonding, whether between mountain bike teammates or winery staff,” Pratt said, “especially on those long weekends, nights or early mornings. Those times where you are pushed to your limit are really the most rewarding and most memorable. I’m lucky to find a new pastime as a career that will push me in new ways.”