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The first Latino viticulture education program in Washington State doesn’t open its classroom doors until November, but already, the state’s wine industry has raised more than $20,000 to provide scholarships to students to offset program costs.

The viticulture program is patterned after Wenatchee Valley College’s successful Hispanic Orchard Employee Education Program that has graduated more than a dozen classes.

Leo Garcia and Francisco Sarmiento will teach the introduction to viticulture class at the Yakima Valley Community College branch campus in Grandview. Garcia is program director for WVC’s Latino Agricultural Education Program, which is an assortment of more than ten technical agricultural programs offered for Latino workers that ranges from integrated pest management to forklift licensing and food safety. Sarmiento, a past graduate of the Hispanic orchard employee program, serves as coordinator of the Latino ag education program.

“We have a great track record with the orchard education program,” Garcia said. “I hope we can repeat it with the viticulture one.”

The new viticulture class curriculum includes basic principles of grape plant physiology and production, nutrition, pest management, crop management, irrigation management, and basic vineyard economics. Students will also learn the relationship between viticulture and enology, math functions that are applicable in the field, and basic computer skills. Depending on the language skills of the class, course work is taught in both English and Spanish, with basic viticulture terms taught in English.

The program, which consists of 190 hours of instruction, will be taught one full day per week from November to April, with several field trips to vineyards for first hand education. Garcia anticipates bringing in industry experts as guest speakers.

The class will cost approximately $1,500 per student, which includes tuition, books, workshops, field trips, and school supplies. Up to 20 students will be chosen for the inaugural class. Students must receive a 75 percent passing grade and attend classes to complete the course.

Scholarships

During a recent wine grape growers’ convention, $23,600 was raised by the Washington Wine Industry Foundation as part of its Fund-A-Need to provide scholarships for the new viticultural class.

“Growers are already paying for their workers’ time to participate and many provide vehicles for them to attend,” Garcia noted. “Often, the employer must hire someone to fill in while the worker attends class. It adds up to a lot of money from the grower’s pocket over the period of five months.”

He is in the process of helping to create an advisory board for the program to guide curriculum choices and direction.

In the future, Garcia hopes that leaders will be identified through the program that will eventually help set up viticulture classes in all grape-growing regions of the state.

“I hope that the new viticulture program will serve as a catalyst to stimulate other similar programs,” he said.

“A successful program needs passionate leaders—teachers who understand the people and industry, and growers who buy into the program. Then people will come. You need complete buy-in from the growers.”

The new viticulture program represents several years of program development and coordination between different educational entities as the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers worked to build the program.

Those interested in participating should contact Garcia now as the class is expected to have more applicants than space is available. Call him at (509) 860-2267, or e-mail lgarcia@wvc.edu.