LOCKPORT – Michael VonHeckler knows wines, and he’s eager to share his knowledge with others through his wine appreciation class offered by the Starpoint Central Schools’ Community Education Program.
The course will appeal to everyone from nonchalant sippers to serious students of the grape.
“The most important thing is for people to learn how to taste wine, by looking at the color, ‘nosing’ the aroma, tasting it and then drawing conclusions,” he said. “It’s a systematic approach, and it will help people make educated decisions on ordering and buying wines.”
The eight-class course is slated from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursdays from Feb. 27 to May 1 (no classes March 27 and April 17) at Starpoint High School. The cost is $59.
VonHeckler is not just an admirer of good wines. He long ago rolled up his sleeves and immersed himself in the business of appreciating and creating wine.
He got his start by attending wine-tastings. Eventually, he started traveling the world and became a serious collector, establishing his first wine cellar. Then he began making his own wine and started a Niagara County winery, which he has since sold, growing 60 acres of pinot noir grapes that turned out 127,000 bottles of wine per year.
After years of intense study, he was awarded a diploma in wines and spirits from the Institute of Masters of Wine in London in 1995.
“It’s a long and arduous process and rather vigorous, but it educates people to be proficient in the wine and spirits trade,” he said.
An electrical engineer by trade, VonHeckler said, “I love talking wine. It’s a great topic.”
And he’s eager to address various aspects of the topic to meet the needs of his students at Starpoint, where he started the course last fall.
“I had one student who is in the process of building a wine cellar, so I spent a class devoted to how to do this,” he said. “Another was interested in wine-making, so we spent a class learning about that. I like to be flexible and accommodating to everyone.”
Because the class meets on school property, wine-tasting is not permitted, but VonHeckler and his students met outside of class last fall for a tasting, and he hopes to incorporate field trips again this spring, perhaps at a local wine bar-restaurant.
“You really need to be able to do both – learn about wine and taste it,” he said. “Students will learn where wines come from; what goes into the winemaking process; and what makes wines different, for example, why a California Chardonnay will taste completely different from a Chardonnay from New York or one from Australia.” Other new classes offered this spring include golfing, Italian cooking and Tai Chi, according to David Schopf, who heads Starpoint’s community education program.
“A lot of districts have cut their community education programs due to budget constraints, and our district, our superintendent and our board have been very supportive of our program,” he said. “Mike VonHeckler has a great mind, a lot of knowledge and a wealth of experience. We first held this class in the fall, and it was very popular.
“We also have some new cooking classes with Larry Cheeley, who has traveled to Italy and learned from their chefs,” Schopf said. “He is a chef for Tops. He’ll teach how to make homemade pasta, Italian breads and even Easter breads.
“We also have a new Tai Chi class with Jeff Manz, starting Feb. 24,” he said. “It’s really gaining popularity. It uses slow motion and deep breathing, and you have to be totally focused.”
Schopf said it’s important to note that you don’t have to be a resident of the Starpoint district to take these classes. Fees vary for the different classes, but the price is the same for residents and nonresidents. Also, anyone with an idea for a new class or interested in teaching a class is invited to contact him at 210-2348.
“We try different things and try and keep the cost affordable for people,” he said. “There might be someone who always wanted to try something and never had the opportunity. They see our brochure and that we offer a class that meets just three or four times, and they think they’ll give it a shot. I always do a survey of the people as they finish the classes to see what else they might like to see offered. We want to meet the needs of the community.”
Classes are offered from Feb. 24 through June 13. Telephone registrations are not accepted. Visit www.starpointcsd.org.