Yavapai grads find jobs in boosting wine industry

A group of harvesters working in Yavapai Community College's vineyard. Photograph via viticulture.yc.edu
A group of harvesters working in Yavapai Community College’s vineyard. Photo courtesy of viticulture.yc.edu

Yavapai College graduated the first class of its new viticulture program last spring and all five graduates had no problems finding jobs in Arizona’s burgeoning wine industry.

Wine production in the state has tripled since 2011, giving birth to a growing economic driver that needs qualified employees. Enter Yavapai College, which last year teamed up with the University of Arizona to create a program in viticulture and enology.

Michael Pierce, Yavapai College’s director of oenology, said the job market is completely open to graduating students with degrees related to the wine industry.

Lori Reynolds, the winemaker at Sonoita Vineyards, said that there is a high demand for qualified workers especially during harvesting season. Students graduating with either a certificate from Yavapai or a degree from the UA will get a job quickly, she said.

Patricia King, executive director of the Arizona Wine Growers Association, said Arizona’s wine industry’s growth comes because of improvements in the quality of wine produced in the state and a boost in public awareness.

“We sort of create the new demand by increasing exposure to consumers about the quality of wines being produced in Arizona. Our job is marketing and promotion of the entire industry,” King said.

There are 98 farm winery license holders in the state’s three major wine regions — the Verde Valley, Willcox and Sonoita/Elgin. A 2010 Winegrowers Association study of the Verde Valley alone showed that wineries contributed $8.5 million to the local economy. An even greater economic impact, King said, was the increased business for hotels, restaurants and outdoor recreation.

Yavapai Community College has a working wine farm with 8,000 vines planted in eight acres. Pierce said there will be 17 acres under vine when the farm is completely planted by 2022, and that production will increase from last year’s 4 tons of fruit to 50 tons in the next eight years.

The college farm produced 250 cases of wine from that fruit, which included four varieties of red grapes and one of white grapes.

Students in his program experience the full process of the wine industry, from planting vines, to harvesting, to making wine and marketing it.

“They see the full spectrum from start to finish,” Pierce said. “They learn the theory in lecture classes and then they are able to apply it.”

Yavapai Community College offers a two-year associate’s degree and a one-year certificate in viticulture or oenology. Both paths require practicum hours that give the students hands on experience.

In partnership with the Yavapai program, the University of Arizona offers advanced course work in chemistry, math and other physical sciences related to the wine industry.

“I think that the Arizona  wine industry is a really great industry to break into and we’re very fortunate that Yavapai and UA are working together,” Reynolds said.

Whitney Burgoyne is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News Service, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at burgoynew@email.arizona.edu or follow her on Twiiter @burgoynew

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