January 2012 issue

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Vintage vocations

In the first of a new series focusing on vocational subjects, we look at viticulture studies. With a range of courses across every major wine region, viticulture and wine courses are growing in popularity. Matthew Knott grabs a glass and has a taste.

As well as the obvious benefits of becoming familiar with some of the world’s finest wines and working in areas of breathtaking beauty, studying wine is also a step into a buoyant trade. It is, as Livia le Divelec at Apicius International School of Hospitality, Italy, enthuses, “a continuously developing industry, which encompasses a wide range of exciting fields.” Wine subject areas are typically oenology, the study of all aspects of wine and winemaking; viticulture, a specific subfield related to vine-growing and grape-harvesting; sommelier studies, training in general wine knowledge, such as procurement, storage, service and matching; and study of the wine business.

The Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT), Taradale, is based within the heart of New Zealand wine country at Hawke’s Bay, an area famed for its red wines including Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend. “We have a great climate for growing grapes and a beautiful landscape on the edge of the Pacific Ocean,” says Chris Wright. EIT offers a range of certificates, diplomas, and degrees. “The Bachelor of Wine Science covers specialist grape-growing and winemaking subjects with practical experience in our purpose-built winery and lab facilities,” she explains. “The Bachelor of Viticulture has a strong emphasis on sciences, techniques and management aspects of grape-growing and winemaking.” The related work experience often leads to employment, adds Wright.

Work opportunities are also plentiful in Western Australia’s wine region, where Curtin University provides a Bachelors Degree in Viticulture and Oenology and a Graduate Diploma in Wine Industry, covering areas such as vineyard management, water resource management and winery engineering. “A fully operational campus winery, including an analytical chemical laboratory, provides an excellent training ground for students to make their own wine,” advises Emily Miller. “The course is highly flexible to allow students to work in the industry while they are studying, and the commencement of the third year is delayed to enable students to complete a full-time vintage.”

Tuscany is considered one of the “Old World” northern hemisphere’s finest regions for growing and is the location for Apicius International School of Hospitality, where various certificates are offered. “Students can attend one single semester and obtain a transcript for credits, or complete the full-year programme and receive a Certificate in Wine Studies and Oenology,” advises le Divelec. Each semester includes visits to six different wineries and a series of trips as well as work opportunities. “Students will have the opportunity to broaden their experience through an internship of approximately 10 hours a week, where they can practice and verify the acquired skills in a professional environment,” says le Divelec, and she adds that the courses are slanted towards wine service, beverage management and the pairing of food and wine.

With a dry, high-altitude climate, Argentina is the world’s fifth largest wine producer, and has grown in quality and quantity over the last 15 years, argues Andrea Posada from Mente Argentina. “Reflecting its immigrant origins, amazing grape varieties from France, Italy and Spain have taken root and flourished in Argentina,” she exclaims. Posada also highlights the comparatively low cost as a benefit of studying in this region, which “allows students to indulge and get the most out of their wine course, short or long, in a way that would be impossible in North America, Australia or Europe”.

Mente offers short programmes of two and four weeks – in Spanish and English – as well as a Spanish-language five month intensive sommelier programme (language preparation is available). “The course also covers topics in the related areas of tourism and gastronomy, two industries deeply linked with winemaking and sommelier studies,” informs Posada.

Chris Foss, Head of Wine Department at Plumpton College in the UK, also extols the virtue of studying in a rapidly growing wine market. “The college provision reflects the dynamism of the English wine industry, which is young, but taking the best from both “New World” and more traditional wine-producing countries,” he enthuses. The UK now has more than 300 commercial vineyards, Foss explains, and the college operates one of these on an eight-hectare site in Sussex. In partnership with the University of Brighton, Plumpton runs foundation degrees in Wine Business and Wine Production and an undergraduate degree in Viticulture & Oenology, with students on the latter completing a vintage in a commercial winery in their final year. It is, Foss attests, “the only university offering undergraduate courses in wine production and business in the UK, and the only university offering such courses in English in Europe”.

The global appeal of wine ensures a multi-national presence on most courses, although Wright confirms a strong Asian presence at EIT, “Most of our international students have been from India, but wine programmes are growing rapidly in popularity in China as they develop their own wine industry.” Both le Divelec and Posada confirm a strong North American presence, while Japan, Korea and Turkey are also cited as flourishing markets.

From winemaker to brand managers

In terms of career path, Chris Wright at EIT in New Zealand explains that their viticulture graduates typically go on to be winemakers, cellar hands, vineyard managers and lab technicians. Chris Foss at UK-based Plumpton College notes a similar trend, with business-focused graduates becoming buyers, sommeliers, retailers, brand managers and product developers. Wine critic, writer and educator are other typical job opportunities mentioned by providers. “In a short period of time, participants will be highly equipped for a management position or to start their own wine-related business in what is one of the most profitable industries in the world,” says Andrea Posada at Mente Argentina.

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