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FLCC launches one-year viticulture certificate for quick path into career in wine, grape growing

Finger Lakes Community College has launched a one-year viticulture certificate to provide a quicker path to a career in the growing wine and grape industry, particularly for adults who already have a college degree.

​The 29 credit-hour program consists of nine classes that provide a practical education in viticulture and winemaking. Students will gain skills necessary to become a wine hobbyist or begin an entry-level position in the wine industry. They will also have the option to continue on and get the FLCC associate degree in viticulture and wine technology, which includes additional courses in science as well as history and communication.

“We have so many students that come through here that have a degree already,” said Paul Brock, associate professor of viticulture and wine technology.

Many of FLCC’s viticulture and wine technology students are older adults or even retirees interested in transitioning to a new career in the region’s iconic industry. “This program allows them to focus on the core skills of growing grapes and making wine, and provides them with a recognized credential,” Brock added.

Kerry Mallon of Brockport learned about the program in a Wine Spectator magazine article and became one of a handful of students in the first certificate class in February.

“It is more academic than I had thought it would be, especially regarding the vineyard approach. I wasn’t expecting to delve into as much of the soil, pest and weed management knowledge quite so in depth,” she said. While COVID-19 has meant a fair amount of online work, she has learned to prune vines in a vineyard and to measure juice sugar and wine alcohol content in the college’s enology lab.

Required courses are General Chemistry I, Introduction to Wines and Vines, Basic Viticulture Techniques, Summer Vineyard Technology Practicum, Introduction to Enology Lab Techniques, Vineyard Management, Fall Wine Technology Practicum, Enology I, and First Aid and Basic Life Support.

“As an older, returning student, I was somewhat hesitant about doing it from two perspectives. One, am I out of practice at this level of science? Two, will the industry hire someone like me?” Mallon said. “Now, I would tell anyone to do it, and if you think you’re too old, you’re not. I had to dig deep into the recesses of my brain to pull out some old science and math knowledge to get through, but so far so good.”

“As to being hired, I’m working on an internship, and I am very hopeful,” she continued. “From what I’ve seen touring the Finger Lakes wineries and visiting tasting rooms, there are folks of all ages involved at all levels. So, I am greatly encouraged in that regard.”

FLCC launched its viticulture and wine technology degree program in fall 2009 in response to interest among local winemakers for a formal training program. FLCC partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Finger Lakes Grape Program and Anthony Road Wine Company in 2012 to plant a 2-acre teaching and demonstration vineyard where students learn hands-on vineyard practices and harvest grapes for winemaking.

In 2015, the college opened the FLCC Viticulture and Wine Center at the Cornell Agriculture and Technology Park in Geneva. The facility has an enology lab, teaching winery, vineyard and aging rooms to provide students with the same equipment and environment they will experience in the industry.

The classes are always a mix of traditional students right out of high school and older students like Mallon. The older students do not always get the degree, and often take only the relevant classes. The new certificate program ensures they have a credential that represents a cohesive educational program employers recognize.

The college is also developing an online version of the certificate that would compress hands-on elements into a two-week residency, making it more accessible to those who do not have time in their schedule for hands-on classes through the year.

FLCC’s viticulture programming was recently featured in a video series called “In Depth,” created for and distributed on public television. The series highlights breakthroughs and innovations in education, health, technology, agriculture and other industries.

Mallon said her three months in the program have changed the way she views winemaking.

“You will not look at wine in the same way again. Despite all the precise science, it really is a magical process,” she said. “Even if you were to simply be curious about how it all works, it’s worth looking into taking the certificate program. It isn’t the same commitment as the associate degree, and you could do it part-time or with a fast-track approach, depending on your goals.”