It’s a life of learning for this wine educator
Mar 12, 2020 11:36AM
By Linnea Lundgren
Sheral Schowe has been teaching wine education courses through her school, Wasatch Academy of Wine, since the ’90s. (Photo courtesy Sheral Schowe)
By Linnea Lundgren | [email protected]
All during this winter, Sheral Schowe’s mind was focused on sunny Spain.
Not for vacation planning (she wishes), but rather to study Spain’s 17 autonomous wine regions and the dozens of unique appellations. There were thousands of wine facts to know, maps to memorize and soil conditions to understand. For 6 to 8 hours each day, Schowe sat at her desk studying for the Wine Scholar Guilds’ rigorous Spanish Wine Scholar certification program.
“It’s the hardest test I’ve ever taken, and I have a master’s degree,” joked the Sandy resident. But such diligent study is all in a day’s work for Schowe, the first female wine educator in the state who started Utah’s first official wine school, Wasatch Academy of Wine, decades ago.
Wine has always played a central role in Schowe’s life. She grew up near California’s wine country, where wine was appreciated and served with dinner and visits to wineries were regular events. So, when she moved to Utah in the ’70s, she said, “I anticipated a change in the wine culture.”
But, when she found herself at a Provo restaurant and the waiter poured her “wine,” which turned out to be a disguised bottle of Welch’s grape juice, she thought, “What kind of bizarre place am I in?”
Utah, she decided, was ripe for a proper wine school. But that would come a bit later.
Instead, Schowe, who had just received a master’s in education administration, found herself developing Utah’s first community education program serving children and adults with disabilities. Granite School District told her if it was going to succeed, she’d have to fundraise for the participants’ enrollment fees.
“I thought, ‘How incredible, I got a master’s degree just to do bake sales and car washes,’” she said. Then her thoughts turned from tedious cake baking to the joys of wine tasting.
She enlisted Utah chefs to donate food for a tax write-off and then gathered every oenophile (connoisseurs of wines) she knew to make a donation, bring a bottle, and learn about it.
“The [District] was impressed with my fundraising, but I never told them it started with wine,” she said. Enough money was raised to open several programs in the District that addressed the academic needs of adults with cerebral palsy, gave children access to wheelchair basketball, and created programs for developmentally disabled adults to learn independent living skills.
“And it all was originally started by wine education,” she said.
Several years later, in 1991, she started Wasatch Academy of Wine.
For Schowe, the appreciation and study of wine is a gateway to many stimulating experiences in life. Besides new tastes, aromas and textures, an education in wine opens up new worlds — the geology of a grape-growing region, its society, art, history and culinary expressions. “You can become intellectually and experientially connected to the world through wine,” she said.
While academic study is necessary, she values learning through experiences, especially through travel and meeting winemakers.
“Last year I was in Europe for two months. The purpose was to meet with winemakers, to walk through their vineyards, to watch them make wine, to visit cellars, to taste wine with their families and experience their food traditions,” she said. “I bring those stories home and it greatly enhances the presentation in all my classes... it gives a deeper meaning.”
Schowe focuses on European wines, while other teachers at the Academy cover New World wines. Her life’s goal is to taste every wine from every appellation in France, Italy and Spain and, while she’s tasted many, there are hundreds she hasn’t. “It is like a treasure hunt,” she said.
Her students today have increasingly sophisticated palates, Schowe said, so the Academy has expanded to include Wine Scholar Guild classes, wine dinner clubs, and popular food and wine pairings.
She’s delighted to now see local restaurants with well-researched wine lists and knowledgeable staff. And diner’s tastes have ventured beyond just wanting to know what the best Cabernet is, she said. People want to explore wines in detail, such as dry sherries from Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. That’s something she’s excited to teach now that she’s spent all winter studying Spanish wines.
“I look forward to planning new and creative ways for wine enthusiasts of Utah to learn about wine, where and how it is made, and connecting them with the hard working and caring people who make it,” she said.
Visit www.wasatchacademyofwine.com or on Instagram @utahwineschool.