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GEO 03 W — The Geology and Wines of California and France

Quarter: Winter
Course Format: Online (System Requirements)
Duration: 6 weeks
Date(s): Jan 14—Feb 22
Drop Deadline: Jan 17
Unit: 1
Tuition: $385
Instructor(s): David G. Howell, Douglas Posson
Limit: 55
Status: Open
Please Note: Online courses have a new refund policy. The full tuition refund deadline for this course is January 17 at 5:00 pm (PT); 50% tuition refund deadline is January 22 at 5:00 pm (PT).
Jan 14—Feb 22
6 weeks
Drop By
Jan 17
1 Unit
David G. Howell, Douglas Posson
Please Note: Online courses have a new refund policy. The full tuition refund deadline for this course is January 17 at 5:00 pm (PT); 50% tuition refund deadline is January 22 at 5:00 pm (PT).
This course is designed for curious people who enjoy wine, especially wine from California and France, and would like to learn more about it. We will examine the connection between wines and their terroir—the complete natural environment in which a wine is produced—and learn why “place” and its geologic history—along with the grapes, their viticulture, the climate, and the winemaker’s skills—are all crucial to the characteristics of wines. We will explore the geologic setting of wine regions in California and France and, with comparative tastings, form the basis for understanding why certain grapes seem to prosper and others do not. As we delve into the geologic history of wine country, we will also learn about the geography, the wines, the names, and the history of numerous wine regions in California and France.

By the end of the course, we will have gained a better understanding of why wines are a reflection of “place” and have firsthand knowledge of many of the tastes that result. Our tastings will compare both Old World (France) and New World (California) wines: Burgundy and California’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; Loire varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscadet, Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc; northern and southern Rhône wines such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and ten others; plus Bordeaux blends from California and France made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other Bordeaux varietals.


  • Course sizes are limited.
    You won't have 5,000 classmates. This course's enrollment is capped at 55 participants.

  • Frequent interaction with the instructor.
    You aren't expected to work through the material alone. Instructors will answer questions and interact with students on the discussion board and through weekly video meetings.

  • Study with a vibrant peer group.
    Stanford Continuing Studies courses attract thoughtful and engaged students who take courses for the love of learning. Students in each course will exchange ideas with one another through easy-to-use message boards as well as optional weekly real-time video conferences.

  • Direct feedback from the instructor.
    Instructors will review and offer feedback on assignment submissions. Students are not required to turn in assignments, but for those who do, their work is graded by the instructor.

  • Courses offer the flexibility to participate on your own schedule.
    Course work is completed on a weekly basis when you have the time. You can log in and participate in the class whenever it's convenient for you. If you can’t attend the weekly video meetings, the sessions are always recorded for you and your instructor is just an email away.

  • This course is offered through Stanford Continuing Studies.
    To learn more about the program, visit our About Us page. For more information on the online format, please visit the FAQ page.

To participate in tasting discussions, students will spend approximately $160–$200 on California and French wines. Students will taste the wines in advance of the optional online videoconferencing sessions (which will be recorded and posted). During these sessions, students will compare notes with the instructors and invited winemakers to discuss their experiences with the terroir, grape varieties, winemaking styles, and taste sensations.

David G. Howell, Research Geologist (Retired), US Geological Survey

David G. Howell is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America. He has been working with Napa Valley vintners for more than twenty-five years and is the co-author of The Winemaker’s Dance: Exploring Terroir in the Napa Valley. After retiring from the US Geological Survey, Howell was an adjunct professor in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences from 2005 to 2009. He received a PhD from UC Santa Barbara and has authored more than 150 scientific articles.

Douglas Posson, Owner, Hexagonvins

Douglas Posson gathers and compiles data and information on wines. He is a co-founder of the US Global Change Research Program, and he led the US Geological Survey’s Arctic data team that received the Presidential Design Achievement Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Visiting France annually for the past thirty years, he has explored the geography, terroir, food, and especially the wines, in Alsace, Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Rhône, Provence, Languedoc, Roussillon, the Loire, the Southwest, and Bordeaux.

Textbooks for this course:

Required books can be purchased on Amazon as a collection at a discount.
(Required) Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, The World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition (ISBN 978-1845336899)
(Required) Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible (ISBN 978-0-7611-8083-8 )
(Required) by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine (ISBN 978-1-59240-899-3 )