A vineyard at Central Lakes College (CLC) Agriculture and Energy Center in Staples, combined with course material, is giving area students a chance to step into the wine industry.
Viticulturist Dennis Drummond is leading the effort at CLC. The vineyard at Staples took shape last year with first-year growth on grapevines. Individual growers and the University of Minnesota gave Drummond cuttings for the vineyard.
Drummond is teaching a course on fruit wine making and had samples for tasting at a recent gathering at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.
He said the wine industry is growing and there are a lot of jobs in the field.
“It’s very exciting to help students get out in the industry,” Drummond said. “It’s the most fun employment I’ve ever found.”
Central Lakes College’s career program for enologists, people who oversee the production of wine, is designed to teach students how to produce wines from proper crushing methods to quality control — even working with lab technicians who are part of larger winery operations. Enologists may also develop wines or specialize in certain varieties.
“Students learn the science, agriculture, and business skills necessary to enhance Minnesota’s rapidly growing wine industry,” CLC notes. “Included is a foundation in chemistry and biology along with specific courses related to cultivar selection, soil preparation, cellar maintenance and marketing. The program is specifically designed to include fieldwork and laboratory practicums at local wineries.”
The course lists graduate outcomes of learning how to examine grapes and cover issues from crop quality to harvest and blending, overseeing fermentation, supervising staff and cellar operations.
Career titles include winemaker, cellar master, enologist, lab technician and tasting room manager. Vineyard managers oversee growing and care of grapes.
“They develop a system of grape management that is appropriate for each vineyard,” CLC reports. “They decide how to manage planting, fertility, harvesting and pruning. They are heavily involved in varietal selection, site preparation, equipment maintenance and safety, first season establishment, vine growth development, trellis systems and pruning.”
The college’s viticulture technology program is designed to show students how to maintain vineyards in Minnesota and the Midwest from soil preparation to covering science, agriculture and business skills needed “to succeed in Minnesota’s rapidly growing viticulture business.”
“Job opportunities in enology are tied to trends in the wine industry,” CLC reported. “Growing grapes in Minnesota is becoming increasingly popular. In 1975, Minnesota had two wineries. By 2007, there were 26. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture reports an increase in both the number of farms growing grapes and total acreage. Employment opportunities are available locally, regionally and nationwide.”
■ The Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) is a National Science Foundation funded partnership between the Missouri State University system, two-year schools throughout America, state agriculture agencies, vineyards and wineries “with a 21st century vision for education in grape growing and winemaking.” For more information, go to www.vesta-usa.org
■ Central Lakes College (CLC), a partner in a 17-state grape and wine production educational consortium, is among the recipients of a $4.99 million National Science Foundation grant that will establish a National Center of Excellence.
■ CLC, as a member of the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance, will receive $203,233, about $50,000 per year, during a four-year period to train technicians with industry-validated credentials in grape and wine production.
■ VESTA began in 2003 as a three-state partnership and has since expanded to enroll almost 800 students from 41 states while increasing its network of partner vineyards and wineries from 64 in 2007 to 140 in 2011.
■ The VESTA National Center of Excellence reports it incorporates distance education to provide two-year institutions and the larger grape and wine production industry access to knowledge and skill development programs that would not be available if each institution had to sustain a program of its own.