Last Friday night, Sonoma State wine business student Cooper Niswonger placed first in the final round of a wine competition in San Francisco and won a fully paid trip to Beaune, France.
Niswonger competed in the student wine tasting competition at La Soiree, an annual fundraising event hosted by the French American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco. She was announced as the winner after correctly identifying a 2012 Chenin Blanc from California and a 2011 Syrah from France.
"I'm incredibly excited. I've never really been to Europe before," said Niswonger. She thanked Sonoma State and the competition's sponsors, including the French American Chamber of Commerce and Wines and Vines, for the opportunity.
Several of the La Soiree attendees gathered around the competition area as Ray Johnson, director of the Wine Business Institute, and Sophie Woodville Ducom, executive director of the French American Chamber of Commerce, announced the results of the competition.
The students had to name the country of origin, varietal of the grapes, vintage year and best meal pairing for each wine. They then answered two bonus questions.
Student Garrett Hanks received second place in the competition, winning a day in Napa Valley with a wine professional. Student Lauryn Mitrovitch received third place and won a day with a wine professional in Sonoma County. All three winners are wine business students at Sonoma State and are active in the university's WineSense club.
"I feel awesome," said Hanks. "I'm so thankful for this opportunity. It was a great experience and I'm happy to have been involved."
Niswonger won the competition in the city following two preliminary rounds at Sonoma State, composed of blind wine tastings and written exams. The students competed against members of the WineSense club and other students in the first round. Seven advanced to the second round, of which Niswonger, Hanks and Mitrovitch were named as finalists.
Niswonger said that most of her classes at Sonoma State had prepared her for the exam, and that she had begun to familiarize herself with more French wines by tasting varietals from different regions as the competition loomed closer.
Given Sonoma State's one-of-a-kind Wine Business Institute, its students were the perfect participants for this wine competition.
"Sonoma State University's Wine Business Institute teaches students a great balance between the business aspect as well as the appreciation and knowledge of wine," said Woodville Ducom. "We are so glad to have partnered with them again this year and hope Ms. Niswonger enjoys her trip."
"It is rewarding to watch our students excel in the world of wine," said Johnson. "The French American Chamber of Commerce, along with Wines and Vines, have created a great opportunity to showcase the talent of our wine business students at Sonoma State."
"I plan to keep tasting and learning," said Niswonger, "but now I must learn French!"