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Wine Education in the Making


by Nikki Check,  Director of Viticulture and Enology at Yavapai College  

The Yavapai College Viticulture and Enology program is a very exciting and integrative program that has identified the need for education in grape growing and wine making in the Verde Valley. Located in the Mingus Mountain Foothills of Clarkdale, AZ, the Verde Campus of Yavapai College has a goal of meeting the needs of its direct community, though we are happy that our educational resources will potentially meet the needs of wine growers in other parts of Arizona and Southwest.

The new program has grown like a wildfire since its inception in the summer of 2009 when the first Viticulture courses were offered. In the fall of 2011, we were able to offer a one-year certificate in Viticulture, and plan to launch a two-year Associates Degree in Viticulture and Enology this coming fall.  Current curriculum includes courses in Wine Appreciation, Viticulture, Soils, Entomology, Water Management, and Viticulture Practicum and will broaden to include Chemistry, online Viticulture courses, and last but not least, Winemaking and Winery Practicum. The speed in which these courses are coming online is amazing, and much of the credit should be pointed toward a receptive administration. The current Verde Campus Dean Tom Schumacher has been especially instrumental and eloquent in bringing forward support for the program.

With such momentum behind the program, many exciting things are underway.  Not only is the College expanding its curriculum, but it also has big plans to put its dynamic Verde Campus to good use. With the help of the YC Foundation and their fundraising efforts, the College will be able to plant 3 acres of grapes this year, and will continue to plant upwards of twenty acres in the years to come. As one might guess, our program is extremely hands-on and student labor is very much utilized.

With so many acres of grapes to be planted, it is only natural that the next course of action be the building of a winery. Though the YC Foundation hopes to fundraise the entire three million dollars to cover the cost of the program’s start-up, we felt as though it is important to remain responsible with the funds and resources of the community. With this in mind, we selected Boxwood Architects out of Seattle to remodel our lightly used racquetball courts into a fully functional, LEED Certified, 3,000 case educational winery complete with tasting room and views of the neighboring Sedona red rocks.  Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the winery’s design is that it includes enough rainwater catchment from its large roof to make it a zero water-use facility in a normal rainfall year.

As a leader in the community, Yavapai College also has plans to become a repository of information and data for the Wine Industry in the arid Southwest.  As many people know, UC Davis in California has become a wonderful resource for California in this way. Yavapai College wishes to close the gap between California data, and Arizona experience, both in the fields and in the cellar.

Yavapai College is already on the forefront of experimentation in the fields, as we have developed an intriguing list of varietals to be planted.  Already planted is one acre of Negro Amaro, a southern Italian varietal that is now coming into its third leaf at the College Campus. We’ve chosen to gear less towards French varietals and more towards Italian and Spanish grapes. Prospective varietals include Malvasia Bianca, Albariño, Vermintino, Refosco, Nero D’Avola, Sangiovese, and Cariñena, with a few Rhone and Bordeaux varietals tossed in as well. 

With the plethora of grapes we intend to cultivate, the college will help fund the program through wine sales, and have enough fruit left-over to sell to novice winemakers, students, and established wineries to help cope with the current shortage of Arizona-grown wine grapes. The winery will also provide a place for winemaking students to practice the art of fermentation without the outrageous capital expense that usually accompanies new winemakers upfront.

The wine industry is one of the only economic drivers in Arizona that continues to see steady growth. A six million dollar industry, the Verde Valley Wine Industry not only stimulates business for itself, but has simultaneously brought in an additional fifteen million dollars to Yavapai and Coconino Counties through tourism and auxiliary spending.  

With that in mind, Yavapai College pushes the Viticulture and Enology Program forward with the hopes that auxiliary programs in culinary arts, hospitality and marketing, will follow closely behind. A commercial kitchen has been included in the Verde Campus’ latest building renovations, with a food and wine pairing class on the short list of courses to be developed.

Exciting as it is to be on the fore-front of this burgeoning industry, the most rewarding aspects of developing this program have been witnessed outside of the classroom and office.  Seeing the social fabric of the community expanding with the Wine Industry as a common thread is wonderful. Local governments seem to work better with each other. More young people choose to stay in Arizona to pursue a future working with wine.  The entire community has somehow become more aware of nature and of weather patterns. It’s not uncommon to run into someone on the street and speak of the pending frosts that might dampen this year’s grape crop. Along with growing an industry, it seems as though we are also growing more connected to one another, and to the world around us. 

  The College has an event coming up we like to call “Come Grow with us,” an annual vineyard planting event, which is set for May 5th 2012.  If you’d like to come get your hands dirty, you can register for the event at www.yc.edu.plantavine  Also, we will be running our Adopt-a-vine program year round and you can visit www.yc.edu/adoptavine to donate to the Yavapai College Viticulture and Enology program. 

Contact Linda Clark at 928-634-6572 for more information.