An Enological Experience

By Yvette Saarinen

The Clint Foundation, launched by John and Nancy McClintock of Vista Hills Vineyard near Dundee to help working college students, became a bridge between local colleges and the wine industry.

A total of 11 colleges, including Linfield College, George Fox University and Marylhurst College, have students paticipating in the Career Exploration Internship, according to Martha Karson, Vista Hills liaison to the colleges.

The new initiative for augmenting the relationship between Vista Hills, the foundation and higher education, still is in pilot stage. It offers an exploratory internship experience in aspects of the wine industry for a limited number of students.   

In September, two Linfield students, Lindsay Gardner and Tyler Tveit signed up for the program through the Office of Career Services. The office’s Kristi Mackay was integral in recruiting and selection of the students.

Karson is a retired Michigan State University professor with more than 40 years of experience in teaching and clinical psychology. She said the program has three components:

• Experiences in the production aspects of winemaking. During harvest, the students worked with Vista Hills and Panther Creek Cellars in various tasks related to production.

• An instructional portion of the internship includes readings, experiences and research, regarding the wine industry in this area of the country. The foundation, Vista Hills, Panther Creek and Crawford Beck Vineyards provided opportunities for the students to explore, discuss and participate in experiential learning related to the student’s particular interest and focus.

• Experiences with business and hospitality aspects of the wine industry. Students worked in the tasting room at Vista Hills, had the opportunity to obtain pourer’s permits and participated in communitywide events, such the McMinnville Wine & Food Classic (Sip!) and the Dundee Hills Passport Tour.

They were exposed to various entrepreneurial philosophies and initiatives in these experiences, Karson said.

Gardner, a 21-year-old senior at Linfield is a double major in international business and French.

She said during the wine industry exploration internship, she’s been able to do a lot of things. She started off the year getting to experience cluster sampling at Vista Hills, and during harvest got to help with fruit sorting and punching down at Panther Creek. Later, she helped look over the budget for Panther Creek. Last semester, she spent several Saturdays working at the tasting room in Vista Hills.

This semester, the students met David and Jeanne Beck at the Crawford Beck Vineyards and discussed their vineyard management philosophies and contracts in the wine business.

Gardner said she’s also been doing some reading about wine and the local industry and is just starting in on a research project. “I’m thinking of looking into how Oregon wine is exported internationally, in order to connect it with my major,” she said.

Gardner, originally from Folsom, Calif., said the program just sounded like a wonderful experience as soon as she heard about it. “I spent my junior year studying in Nantes, France, and when I got back home I set a personal goal of learning more about wine. When I first heard about the internship it seemed like not only a great way to pursue this goal, but also a way to learn more about a specific industry and to take advantage of what is unique and special about this part of the country.

“I have really enjoyed this internship so far, and I’m going to be sad when it’s over. All the people that I’ve worked with have been really great,” Gardner said. “As far as my original goal of learning more about wine, this has been an amazing opportunity to do so, literally, from the ground up. Not many people get to have these experiences.

“Getting to see some of the beautiful vineyards and learning more about this industry has transformed my perception of McMinnville and the Willamette Valley,” she said.

The program is a work match grant. Students must have earned money prior to the program, then, through the match of the colleges, the funds are multiplied threefold. It can be applied to the cost of tuition and room and board.

The money is in the form a of a grant, not a loan, however, the students are expected to “pay it forward” by helping someone else in need in the future, Karson said.

The students must write a report on the internship, and in return, gain college credit. Karson said the program is expected to expand next year.

Dave Petterson, general manager of Vista Hills, said the program is terrific. It’s a real world piece of learning for the students, a source of help for the wineries, and turns out more knowledgeable employees, he said.

The McClintocks bought the 50-acre site in the Dundee Hills in 1990 and made their first vintage in 2000. They produce premium Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in about 2,500 cases a year. Nearly 90 percent of their wine is sold from their own tasting room, called The Treehouse. ◊

Yvette Saarinen is the business editor of the News-Register in McMinnville.

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