Sitting in a seminar in Stillwater, Oklahoma, with winemakers and winery owners from all over the world on a panel in front of the room creates a surreal sensation.
"You have to remind yourself that you’re in Stillwater," Mia Mascarin-Oven said.
Mascarin-Oven grew up in Tulsa, and she oversees operations and business development for 32 Winds, a Napa Valley winery owned by her father, Tulsa resident Ed Mascarin. She and her father were honorary co-chairs at this year’s Wine Forum of Oklahoma, held every other year for the past 10 years on the campus of Oklahoma State University.
They were joined as co-chairs by another father-daughter duo with Tulsa connections, Tricia Bump Davis and Larry Bump. Larry Bump lives in Tulsa and owns Darms Lane, also a Napa Valley winery. Tricia Bump Davis is the general manager, and like Mascarin-Oven, she grew up around Tulsa, graduating from Jenks High School.
"The Wine Forum is a bigger deal than people realize," Bump Davis said. "We’ve been there for all five forums, and it gets better every year. The first couple of events, I’m not sure the attendees realized who the people were sitting on panels and standing behind the tables pouring wine. That’s no longer the case."
The Forum is a program within the School of Human Sciences, and the funds raised go toward student scholarships and other means of student support. The Friday night gala dinner and auction on April 5 raised $17,000 for the students. Ticket sales for the grand tasting also benefit students, but a final tally was not available at press time.
With the exception of faculty oversight tasks, the entire forum is run by the students, a massive undertaking that this year involved more than three dozen wineries and portfolios, as well as winemakers, owners, and portfolio managers.
Mascarin-Oven said 32 Winds participates because they love the program at Oklahoma State, and they’re excited to help the students learn the business of wine and hospitality.
"It’s a great intersection of wine business and education in one place," she said. "The students and attendees get an in depth look at viticulture, winemaking, and the business of wine, and the professional networking is outstanding."
Larry Bump graduated OSU in 1964, and his daughter followed suit with a degree in management information systems in 1994.
"I feel compelled to say that I washed out of the hospitality program," she said. "It sounds bad, but the weed-out course was food prep; it’s the one that got everyone, mostly because of the 8 a.m. lectures on food preparation."
Bump Davis said the family supports the Forum because of who it benefits, both the students at OSU and the wine culture of Oklahoma.
"The students work so hard to make this event happen, and their hard work has paid off in that we have these amazing people coming to Stillwater to participate in what is becoming a world-class wine event."
Several Tulsa chefs and restaurants also participated. Southern Hills executive chef Jonathan Moosmiller prepared the gala dinner, and Tulsa restaurants from the Justin Thompson Group and McNellie’s Group, as well as Laffa and SMOKE. on Cherry Street were on hand for the Saturday night grand tasting.
Amanda Jane Simcoe, a private chef and cheese monger, was part of a group called Friends of HTM (Hospitality-Tourism Management).
"We don’t have brick-and-mortar restaurants, so we come here as a group of private and catering chefs who like to support the program," Simcoe said. "I’ve been to all but the second one—yes, I missed Francis Mollman—and I’ll participate as often as they ask me. The program is incredible. It’s super competent students learning critical lessons about the hospitality industry, and they’re eager and excited to learn. That is totally worth my time!"
Students are assigned to work with chefs, wineries, brokers, and other entities within the food and wine industry. Event planning, set up, tear down, and logistics are all handled by the students, and they receive academic credit toward their program as a result. It’s an exhausting, nearly non-stop, 48-hour process, and the general consensus is that the students have created one of the best wine events in the world.
"It’s my favorite wine event, period," Mascarin-Oven said. "The attitudes are amazing; people are excited to be here; it’s positivity all around; the wineries get excellent showcasing, and the attendees are genuinely curious about wine and the wine business."