Planting a Firm Foundation

By Wine Press Staff

Umpqua Community College (UCC) and its Southern Oregon Wine Institute (SOWI) broke ground on May 20, planting its first grapevines in the school’s five-acre vineyard. Viticulture classes, leading to a community college certificate and the first year of the two-year degree program, have been underway since the fall of 2008 and currently have more than 40 students.

A portion of the approximately 400 vines was planted by both local high school students interested in vineyard production and agriculture—they will tend some of the vines throughout the year—and current members of UCC’s viticulture class. Nebbiolo and Syrah were the varieties chosen.

Nebbiolo, the noble grape of Italy grown in the Piedmont region, will introduce a challenging and seldom-used grape to the Umpqua. Syrah, on the other hand, has been widely used in the region.

Architects from Fletcher Farr Ayotte, a full-service design firm with an important focus in higher education, and Laurence Ferar and Associates, winery design experts and landscape architects, led a multi-media news conference revealing the design for the winery at SOWI and the process by which the design was achieved.

“The Umpqua and Southern Oregon wine industry have led and supported this effort from the very start,” said UCC President Blaine Nisson. “We at the college have availed ourselves of their imagination, their expertise and experience and their drive. The College can truly begin to give back to this economy by working our own fields and producing our own wine.”

The winery is expected to cost $7 million, with funding from private donations, grants and federal stimulus money. Construction will begin once the money is raised, with completion 18 months following. Naming opportunities for various rooms, structures and the winery itself will be announced once they are approved by the UCC Board of Trustees.

Its location and design will make it one of the finest teaching and learning wineries and vineyards in the country. The winery’s proximity to its vineyard, and with the entire center on the same campus with the rest of the college with access to the science department and its laboratories, the library, the culinary arts program, other academic departments and even parking, make it an ideal setting for students to learn and for the public to use.

Public facilities will include an incubator for individuals to begin their own winery, with help on how to find financing and developing business and marketing plans from UCC’s business department and Small Business Development Center—the goal for participants is to launch a winery within two to three years.

“This is a strong economic development arm of the Southern Oregon Wine Institute,” said Nisson.

The flexibility of the building will make large-to-small spaces available for wine-tasting and other public events.

For instructor Chris Lake’s UCC viticulture students, the 20th was a make-up lab.  Throughout this past year, the viticulture classes, which, in part, have been held online, have always required labs on several Saturdays in the vineyard of industry supporters or in the College science building. This was the first time UCC students worked in their own vineyard.

“Our curriculum is ‘end-product’ focused,” said Lake, a former vineyard manager as well as published academic. “Working the field and producing a bottle of wine is fundamental to the education we are offering our students. What’s more, I emphasize actually selling the wine they produce. To that end, we are adding a sales and marketing concentration to our syllabus.”

SOWI began about five years ago when the industry came to the college to develop an educational component that would take the local wine industry to the next step. Since then, financial help has come from many donors, including Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians, Douglas County Commissioners, individuals who’ve offered equipment, the college’s faculty, staff and administration, its Board and its Foundation Board, and the winery associations of the Umpqua, Rogue and Applegate valleys, plus individual winemakers.

“This is a big step for our school, for the wine industry, for community college education, and for the economic development of our region and the state as a whole,” said Nisson. “It’s significant that we are taking this step in the midst of the greatest economic decline since the ’30s. It shows that the people of Southern Oregon are looking toward the future and taking that into their own hands.”  ◊

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