FRESNO STATE — With 10 years of experience in several cellars in the Central Valley, Jose Betancourt is not the typical oenology student – and he’s proud of the equally unique Graduate’s Reserve wine he helped craft this spring in Fresno State Winery with four other elderly people. The first Graduate Reserve was introduced last year during Debut Season.
This year’s mix features five of campus barrel room graduate favorites – Alicante Bouschet, barbera, Shirazand Tempranillo varieties from the vineyards of the campus and the region and Zinfandel wine of Amador Valley in the foothills of the Sierra.
Each bottle costs $12 at Gibson Farm Market or online through the campus winery, which offers a 10% discount on purchases of three or more bottles.
For the first time, this same unique blend will be bottled with additional special edition labels for two more California State University campus- Cal Maritime and State of Stanislaus – and marketed to each of their promotions. The promotion was boosted after administrators from each university sampled and enjoyed Fresno State wines at a system-wide event last year.
“This wine has been a great addition to our portfolio,” campus winemaker Tom Montgomery mentioned. “It tastes fantastic and is another example of how we are helping to develop the great winemakers of tomorrow. Our student assistants work exceptionally hard year-round to produce over 20 types of fine wines from across California. With it, they can take more ownership, and it’s a perfect way for family and friends to toast the achievements of our graduates.
Betancourt worked with other Fresno State Winery student assistants Karley Curtis, Coultin Gist, Monique Gutierrezand Chanel Madison to create five options, which they used to select a final mix this spring with Montgomery.
“This edition is based on our Saviez Syrah, a grape variety that I have always loved and which is doing well in our region,” Betancourt said. “It tastes bold and fruity, but not too spicy. The combination with the other varieties offers a complex taste and pays tribute to some of the best wines of the Central Valley.
A student’s journey to success
For Betancourt and other budding winemakers, this second vintage is a testament to how far each Fresno State student has come to success.
Betancourt’s academic career began at ITT Technical Institute in Clovis 2007, where the 32-year-old talk native studied computer science but left a semester before earning an associate degree.
A year later, when he turned 21, he started working full time from June to December each year at O’Neill Vintners and Distillers at Parlier, and attended full-time courses each spring at Reedley College. In addition to working there as a rack and mixer, operator and production planner, he supported his wife, Destiny, who was completing her nursing degree.
“Working at O’Neill was great as I learned many important skills such as managing additives, blending, filtering and even creating international shipments which have different quality standards,” Betancourt said. “My senior year I stopped by their office, which was informative from a customer and ordering perspective, and reminded me that my true love was working directly with wines.”
After five years splitting his year between the two locations, he focused on his full-time studies at Reedley College in the fall of 2018, earning his associate’s degree in communications in 2019.
During this period he added new skills by working as a general cellar worker for E. & J. Gallo vineyard in Fresno, the largest family-owned winery in the United States, and in the tasting room of Fäsi Wine Estate in Friant. He started as a full-time student at Fresno State in the fall of 2019 and began working at the campus winery the following spring.
Share your challenges to inspire other students
The added practical skills of the Fresno State winery gave him a boost to complete his education, which he now realizes had been a challenge for him due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) . The condition, which was officially diagnosed in the fall of 2019, was confirmed by a 90-minute test that included puzzle sections, a survey and two sessions with a therapist.
“I’ve always had trouble staying focused in class,” says Betancourt, “and the results showed that I mostly had trouble with audio or verbal cues. Trying to sit in a two to three hour class can be difficult for many people, and certainly for me. My attention can start to wander after 15 minutes, and it can be very difficult to regain focus after that first hour. If I hear multiple speakers at the same time or background noise, it can also interfere with my attention and ability to learn. »
Since starting medication in the spring of 2020 to combat the disorder, he said he found new clarity and motivation, so much so that he avoided telling instructors about his condition until spring.
“It was something I wanted to prove I could do on my own, and not ask for extra help,” Betancourt said. “It was not easy to stay focused, including longer tests. Before Fresno State, I had heard comments from professors about my lack of focus. And they were partly right, but it’s a small justification that it wasn’t necessarily my fault.
The diagnosis came at an important time, when new challenges were presented to students during the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift from campus to virtual teaching. Attending classes virtually while helping to watch over his young daughter was a challenge, while his wife worked 12-hour nursing shifts. The time period required additional study and preparation and the help of his mother, sister, and other family members.
Now that the campus has returned to in-person classes, he has been busy as treasurer of the Fresno Wine Society, an on-campus student group that hosts weekly public wine tastings. He also served as Vice President of Campus Entrepreneurship clubthanks to the invitation of a classmate and former employee of O’Neill.
“Meeting a new businessman every week and learning how he’s trying to connect with the community has been invigorating,” Betancourt said. “There’s an added benefit of learning more about their marketing plans and business interactions, and I enjoyed the diversity of ideas and people who started their own business.”
Being able to focus on winemaking in the classroom has pushed her career path in new directions, thanks to hands-on classes like those taught by Dr. Miguel Pedroza.
Betancourt remembers in particular a laboratory of several months monitoring the phenolic composition of wines related to astringency and bitterness in the production class in the cellar. He also learned about consumer sensory preferences in wine related to an alternative yeast study by Pedroza in a wine production course. The rigors of research have sometimes been stressful, but validated by the potential benefits.
“I congratulate him for having had the courage to return to university after having already followed a professional path and accumulated new experiences,” said Dr. Pedroza. “He was always a team player who fitted in well with others of different ages and experience levels. I never knew he had ADHD issues. To me, he always had an outstanding performance as a student, and that says a lot about his dedication to the program.
Betancourt is looking forward to a winemaking internship this summer with E. & J. Gallo. “No matter your experience, there are new challenges every day and no mix is ever the same,” Bettancourt said. “You are constantly managing and shaping the chemistry of wine throughout the winemaking process.”
Much like the years of dedication required to craft successful wines, his long journey to graduation has been equally rewarding. “I thought something was wrong with me for so long, so I think it’s important to share my experience, especially if others are facing similar issues and haven’t been tested yet,” Betancourt said. “I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 30, but I never stopped trying to learn, and that patience has benefited my career and my family. I can’t say how grateful I am for all the help and patience from my wife, teachers, classmates, family and friends.
By Geoff Thurner