Design and wine combine to enrich students’ experience

Wine, cider, mead and beer products all with different labels from this group.

It’s not often that faculty and students in the College of Arts and Humanities find themselves among the fermentation tanks in the Jordan College of Agriculture. During the annual event, enology students hold a tasting for their class project. But it featured a unique twist this semester. For the first time, graphic design and enology students collaborated and demonstrated the power of combining the arts and sciences in growing our students’ experiences.

Faculty, students and staff gather near the fermentation tanks at Jordan College of Agricuture.

“I learned of this event via Instagram last year,” said Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Virginia Patterson. “I contacted William Whalen, [enology lecturer], and asked if our classes could collaborate on it.”

Upper-division graphic design BFA students in the packaging design (GD176) course normally end the semester with a computer full of product design digital mockups for several projects. Meanwhile, the enology students in the fermentation course create their own product lines – including designing labels – and hold a tasting event to cap off their semester’s work.

“In the real world, they won’t be [designing their own labels]. They’ll be working with designers,” said Patterson. “So that was a perfect collaboration with packaging design and enology.” 

This semester the two departments found each other, and the enology and graphic design students worked together to create something special – branded lines of fermented products.

The enology class was split into four groups. Each group created its own line of products which included beer, wine, mead and cider brewed in small one-gallon batches. Meanwhile, the product design course was also split into four groups and worked with the enology students to get specifics on each product.

The design students sent the enology students a detailed questionnaire to gather the information they needed to create the visual branding for the product.  

“We ended up getting a brief that was really great for us,” explained Sela Bloodgood, a graphic design student. 

Tom Montgomery, head winemaker at the Fresno State Winery, said the enology students not only have to make the beer and wine but are also required to have a back story for each product. That information was conveyed to the artists through the survey process.

“Not only are [the students] making their own product, be it wine, beer, mead, cider – they are learning fermentation – but they’re going into an industry that is very aesthetic in nature. So for us, it’s good science, but at the same time, there’s a creative component, an aesthetic component to wine in general,” said Montgomery. 

Students and faculty taste the fermented products.
Photo by Geoff Thurner.

Marketing and packaging are extremely important to winemakers, Montgomery said, especially at the boutique level, where a winemaker may have to wear many hats. 

“What’s your storyline is big in our business. Where is the vineyard? Is it a family vineyard?” Montgomery said. “So if you ask them about their products, ask them about the story behind them.”

The graphic design students worked with the enology students virtually to complete the designs that enhanced those stories and built the brands. At the end of the semester, the students presented their products at the Fresno State Winery with a tasting event.

“We don’t often get to make something that feels like it realistically could go to market. We try to get in that mindset, but this is the closest we’ve got so far,” said Finch, a graphic design B.F.A.  student. “It didn’t just feel like a school project, and for some of us who want to go into package design as a career, it really inspired them.”

For the graphic design students, the tasting event was the first time they saw their final product. For many, it was also the first time they had been able to handle something they had designed beyond a sheet of paper from their printer.

“To see [the final product] in public, professionally printed and applied to the product is a pretty unique situation,” said Patterson. “It was fun to see their faces respond when they saw them.”

“I’ve designed many physical things, but for some reason, this was the most realistic,” said Finch. “It was almost surreal seeing a product I made, even though all my time was spent doing that very thing. Having actually in my hands was something else entirely. Also, being able to drink it was nice!”

As the faculty and students from the two colleges mingled and enjoyed the shared accomplishment, the inspiration-filled conversation inevitably turned toward future collaborative opportunities. While exciting new projects are sure to come, the ferment among the vessels exhibits the unbridled potential possible when art and science collaborate.

Posted by

Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

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