SSU student has a nose for wine
By Nick Walden / Towns Correspondent
For a 23-year-old, Cooper Niswonger has developed a respectable knowledge of wine. The Sonoma State University student, in her final year as a double major in wine business and marketing, placed first in the final round of a student wine tasting competition in late November and won a fully paid trip to Beaune, France.
“It’s very exciting. I have never been to Europe before, and I am very interested in the culture they have to offer and being immersed in it,” said Niswonger, who will receive private tours and tastings at Bourgogne estates.
The Bourgogne region boasts a long history of winemaking, with vineyards tracing back to the year 312. The area lies in northeastern France, two hours from Paris, and has a climate favorable for wine-grape growing.
The wine tasting competition was at La Soiree, an annual fundraising event hosted by the French American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco. The full competition involved both written and tasting challenges. Students were required to name the country of origin, varietal of the grapes, vintage year and best meal pairing for each wine.
“I was well prepared for the written portion from having gone over the material in my classes. SSU prepared me so well, but the tasting part was more difficult and I had to bone up on my skills,” said Niswonger, who is from the Bakersfield area and transferred to SSU after completing her A.A. degree at Solano Community College.
She was announced the winner after correctly identifying a 2012 Chenin Blanc from California and a 2011 Syrah from France. Prior to the event in San Francisco she passed two preliminary rounds at Sonoma State, competing against members of the WineSense club and other students.
Garrett Hanks won second place at the competition, earning a day in Napa County with a wine professional, private tastings, lunch and $200 for wine purchases. Lauryn Mitrovich received third place and won a day with a wine professional in Sonoma County, which includes lunch, private tastings and $100 for wine purchases. All three are wine business students at SSU and members of the school’s WineSense club.
Niswonger admitted that the trip to France made her study harder. “I was buying different French wines and taking notes up until the competition. The trip definitely pushed me to do more.”
Niswonger is on pace to graduate in May 2014 and must make her travel plans by June. Along with school, she works three days a week at Schug Winery in Sonoma and has a marketing internship at Vintage Wine Estates in Santa Rosa.
For now she is focused on her classes and then learning some French. After graduating and her trip, Niswonger hopes to land a job with a winery, working in either marketing or public relations.
“I want to start working first to get a grasp of things in the industry but am keeping my options open,” she said, noting that a master’s degree is in the back of her mind, especially with SSU’s Wine MBA program.