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UT Tyler fermentation program partners with East Texas wineries, distilleries as industry continues to grow

This summer, students at UT Tyler have been learning firsthand about making wine at Kiepersol.

TYLER, Texas — Wineries are among some of the businesses closed during COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped students at UT Tyler from learning first hand in the winemaking industry. 

Alex Lee, a winemaker at Kiepersol, has been working with the students as part of the university’s fermentation program. 

“We are bringing our grapes in from the fields to our winery itself where they are mostly helping me with the processing side of things,” Lee said. 

The fermentation science program is the first of its kind in East Texas. It was developed in response to the needs of the region’s growing brewing and winemaking industry.

“The program was initially kind of asked for by members of the community,” Jordan Beaver, an assistant professor of Chemistry at UT Tyler said. “What if we had some educational reservoir to train young people, people who are interested in entering the field of fermentation science. Being in this area of east texas, there's not necessarily a large pool to draw from with people who have a clickable experience already. We've really just scratched the surface of the capacity for the industry to expand in this region. And I think having well educated, well trained, and passionate people in this area will only, you know, grow the reputation of high quality products coming out of this area.” 

Credit: Kiepersol
UT Tyler student works at Kiepersol as part of Fermentation Science Program

The program teaches start-to-finish processes of making various fermented foods and beverages.

“With UT Tyler trying to be as mutually beneficial as we can, because at least on our side, we're only going to benefit from whatever they come up with,” Lee said. “I've got thousands of gallons of wine in tanks. If we get something that we don't like as much, we will instead send them five gallons or something for them to play with, and then have that data for me to work with.”

Over the course of the fermentation program, students will learn about the theoretical parts of winemaking and brewing, but Dr. Beaver says the real experience will come with hands-on learning. 

“To understand if you change this step in the process, how does that change not just how something looks and smells and tastes, but from a chemical perspective, you can actually see these things changing and evolving or devolving, as you twist this knob over here, add this ingredient instead or ferment with this yeast as opposed to this one,” Beaver said. 

The program is available  for all majors at UT Tyler. Due to COVID-19, the University will be giving students the option to do some of the program virtually. They’re currently working on expanding the program for others in the area interested in the winemaking and brewing industries.