Oberlin Launches Summer Block Intensive in Champagne

As part of the first-ever summer block intensive, an intensive month-long course for credit, the Oberlin French department will host a four-week cultural and linguistic immersion course in summer 2023, titled Discovering Champagne: The World in a Glass. The course is interdisciplinary in nature, covering the scientific, cultural, historical, and economic significance of champagne in France. 

The course is part of the College’s effort to create more experiential learning opportunities where students can obtain direct experience applying the knowledge they are learning in the classroom. Associate Dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences Laura Baudot is behind many of the College’s efforts to expand these opportunities and sees potential for future summer courses that include other study away destinations, or are even located on Oberlin’s campus. 

“The summer block course definitely expands current opportunities for immersive language study,” Baudot wrote in an email to the Review. “It also creates opportunities for students to study abroad who cannot devote a full semester to an off-campus experience. (Athletes and double degree students, in particular, might find this short duration study away more amenable to their schedules).”

Participants will spend most of their time in cities located in the Champagne region of France: Épernay, Aÿ, and the region’s capital Reims. Students will also have the opportunity to travel to Paris and enjoy sites related to the study of champagne there.

Grace An, associate professor of French and Cinema Studies, cites her experiences teaching abroad as her inspiration to create a course under the auspices of the summer block intensive.

“Twice I’ve taught in a summer program in France that was administered by another liberal arts college, and it was truly one of the best teaching experiences I’ve ever had,” she wrote in an email to the Review. “It made me think that I want the study of French to be a study of French in action.”

An’s humanities background has helped define the interdisciplinary nature of the course. She sees the consumption and creation of champagne as an artistic expression within a broader culture of sustenance.

“I approach champagne as a humanist who is interested in food [and] drink as culture and as an art form,” An wrote. 

An has also structured the course to contextualize champagne by including substantial materials on the history. 

“Indeed, the study of champagne production requires multiple perspectives,” she wrote. “We rely on chemistry and physics to better understand effervescence and fermentation; on a surface neuroscientific approach to the effects of effervescence on the pleasure receptors of our brains, those receptors that process aroma and taste. I’ve prepared a lecture on champagne as luxury (from Louis XIV to Louis Vuitton), but there will be sessions on soils (with the chalk in Champagne’s soils being extremely important).”

College fourth-year Lily Enoch will serve as the course’s teaching and program assistant, a role she obtained serendipitously through a comment she made during a previous discussion with An, her advisor.

“I got a book about the science of wine and told my advisor [An], and she was like ‘No way, I’m doing research about champagne too,’” Enoch said. “We knew we were on the same wavelength. That’s how the collaboration started.”

For Enoch, the traditional understanding of champagne as alcohol doesn’t encapsulate the layers of significance it holds in France. She sees the course as a way of revealing the cultural significance of champagne through history, science, art, and soil.

“While the title mentions champagne, it’s really so much deeper than that,” Enoch said. “It’s about the culture and the terroir — ‘terroir’ being a really important word. It means everything that makes the wine — the soil, the climate, everything comes into play. Champagne is a product of its environment.”

An reflected on what she hopes students will take away from this new summer experience. 

“It’s a course that can teach students how to savor, how to enable themselves to savor something like champagne: to learn about it in such a way to maximize one’s sense of the synergies between knowledge, pleasure, and, pun fully intended, immersion in a place that expresses itself in what we drink,” she wrote.