Christa Leach, left, shows fellow students how to analyze a juice sample for pH. Leach is working at Snoqualmie Vineyards as an intern.
Photos by Melissa Hansen
During the second week of class, having had just two lectures to learn about safety and sanitation, Trent Ball’s students were already gaining practical experience, crushing Syrah and pressing Rousanne grapes from Washington State’s Horse Heaven Hills.
“Is this hopper backwards?”
“Do I need to sanitize these shovels and forks?”
“Do I have this hose hooked up right?”
As crush began on a Tuesday night in late-September, Ball answered a barrage of student questions while he operated a forklift, dumping bins of grapes into the press and crusher/destemmer.
In between answering questions, he gave practical tips and advice to students. “Make sure when you have your own bins, that they can be rotated when being dumped,” he said, adding that when donated grapes are delivered for crush, he doesn’t have a choice on the type of bin used. “If you get rotators on the bins, you don’t have to use straps to secure them to the forklift like we do.”
Ball, who has a bachelor’s degree in food science from the University of Idaho and a master’s in agribusiness from Washington State University, is chair of the agriculture department at Yakima Valley Community College. He teaches a variety of courses, including the winery operations course, which follows the grape from berry to glass during the school year. Wines produced by students in the class are sold in the college’s tasting room. The winery operations course is a key emphasis of the college’s vineyard and winery technology program.
YVCC launched the vineyard and winery technology program in 2007 to help meet a need for educated vineyard and winery technicians. Students can obtain degrees in vineyard technology or winery technology or take individual courses to expand their skills.
After completing the two-year program, some students will continue their degree path to a four-year program, such as Washington State University’s. Others will stop after receiving the technical certificate that’s offered in viticulture or enology. The program also assists students in securing internships in the wine industry.
Winery operations classes are taught in the teaching winery located at YVCC’s Grandview campus and represent a major commitment on the part of the students. Class time is 6:30 to 9:30 every Tuesday and Thursday nights. Most of the students have full-time jobs, and a few are already employed by local wineries. Some have families, and some have moved from elsewhere so they can enroll in the class.
Students spend fall quarter focused on harvest activities—crush and fermentation of red and white varieties. Winter quarter focuses on lab work and wine analysis; blending and bottling is done during spring quarter.
“It’s a real hands-on learning experience,” said Ball. “These students had only two days of introduction lecture and were thrown into the fire of crush on the third night of class.”
With notebooks in hand, one team of students ran the winery’s Diemme 2-ton-capacity whole cluster press, learning how to read the control panel, and analyzing pH samples from the Rousanne juice every 15 minutes. Another team ran Syrah grapes through the Diemme destemmer/crusher, a smaller machine that handles about 1.5 tons per hour.
All were busy sanitizing equipment, bins, and lines before crush started.
Along with the crushing equipment, the state-of-the art teaching winery has five jacketed fermentation tanks of different sizes, five portable fermentation tanks, and a fully stocked laboratory for grape and wine analysis.
Each year, students of the winery operations class will use about a dozen oak barrels for red wine storage and produce between 300 to 500 cases of wine.
The teaching winery goes by the name Yakima Valley Vintners and has a tasting room onsite at the Grandview campus. Tasting room manager, Jensena Newhouse, is a winery operations class member.
The tasting room, run by students, is open Fridays and Saturdays. The students produce all the wines under the Yakima Valley Vintners label. Wines are sold in the tasting room and in retail markets in Yakima, the Tri-Cities, and Seattle.
The names of the wines change slightly each year, depending on the grape varieties used and the label names chosen by the winery operations class. Examples of past labels include Class Project Viognier, Teacher’s Pet Rosé, Graduates Last Hyrah Syrah, Cap ’n’ Gown Cabernet Sauvignon, Mid-term Red, Semester Abroad Sangiovese, Campus Red Blend, and Textbook White Gewurztraminer.
Syrah wines from the winery’s first vintage in 2007 won silver medals at the Tri-Cities Wine Festival and the Washington State Wine Competition. Many more awards have followed. “We’ve medaled every single wine that we’ve ever entered in competition,” said Catherine Jones, vineyard and winery technology grant director at YVCC. “We’re very proud of our students for creating such great products.”
Two incubator wineries located inside the teaching winery operate under the winery’s bond and pay rent for space and use of equipment. Current incubator wineries are Cedergreen and Parejas. “It’s a win-win situation,” said YVCC’s Melissa Rowan. “Incubator wineries sign a five-year contract. We help the new wineries get started—they don’t have to purchase all of the equipment at once, although they supply their own bottles and barrels. And, the rent helps support the building.”
A teaching vineyard was planted at the Grandview campus in 2010 to provide hands- on learning for students taking viticulture classes. The vineyard consists of three varieties, Lemberger, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc.
The four rows of teaching vines located near the winery crush pad look a little out of place, sandwiched next to a public sidewalk, busy downtown street, and the campus parking lot. But they provide valuable experience as students learn about care of the vine and vineyard skills, such as pruning and canopy management.
As the 2012 harvest neared and the grapes began to ripen, the vines were wrapped up tight with netting to discourage sampling by birds and passers-by. The 2012 harvest marks the first year that grapes from the teaching vines will be used by students making wine.For more information about YVCC’s Vineyard and Winery Technology Program, visit: www.yvcc.edu/wine. Trent Ball, agriculture department chair, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 882-7007.