Kent State will offer winemaking degree
Ohio’s first college degrees related to winemaking will be offered at Kent State University’s Ashtabula campus beginning in the fall.
Those who enroll in a two-year program in enology, the study of wine and winemaking, or in viticulture, the study of vine-growing and grape-harvesting, will have no problem getting hands-on experience. A majority of Ohio’s 151 wineries are located in Ashtabula County and neighboring Lake and Geauga counties.
“We are elated,” said Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producer Association. “We have been working with the university and the regents for better than two years.”
Tony Debevec, owner of Debonne Vineyards in Madison, trains his workers on-site and is pleased that professional classes will be offered.
“I think it will elevate the quality of individuals that we have to pick from and shorten the training time,” he said. “Also, when you go to school you learn how to work with other people, gain connections and bring new experiences and ideas to the industry.”
The Kent program will be affiliated with the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance, founded about eight years ago to serve wineries between the Appalachians and the Rockies, Winchell said.
The alliance, at Missouri State University, has partnered with colleges, state agricultural agencies and vineyards in 11 states to promote education in grape-growing and winemaking. Those states, including Ohio, have a climate and geography different from the wine-growing areas on the east and west coasts.
Most courses are online but students can attend classes on site. All get practical experience at wineries, said Susan Stocker, dean of Kent’s Ashtabula campus.
The Ashtabula campus will offer its associate degree programs throughout the state through its affiliation with the Viticulture alliance, she said. Classes may be taught in intensive weekend sessions in other Ohio cities, and students can work at nearby wineries. Students also may travel to Ashtabula and stay in area hotels while taking classes.
Stocker expects an initial enrollment of about 20 students in each degree program.
“It really is for us an economic development issue,” she said. “Associate degrees support local employers, and graduates go out and get jobs and start working. It is a growing industry.”
A 2008 economic impact study showed more than 4,000 people were working in the wine industry in Ohio, according to Winchell. More than 600 are employed today in northeast Ohio, she said.
Ohio ranks in the top 10 wine-producing states. More than 1.1 million gallons of wine are produced each year and the industry contributes more than $500 million to the state’s economy, according to Ohio State University Extension program.
Debevec, who has been in business since 1971 when less than a dozen wineries operated in the state, said he believes the wine industry is the region’s fastest-growing industry among all sectors, not just agriculture.
“Having people educated who come in with new ideas and passion at mid-level positions in the cellar and the viticulture side would be a great help,” he said. “It is like an art — and passion is an important part.”