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Staples college receives grant to train technicians in wine production

Led by viticulturist Dennis Emslie Drummond, a vineyard site at the Central Lakes College Agricultural and Energy Center in Staples is testing a number of grape varieties, including table grapes.

Once harvested, grapes will be tested for quality with eventual possible sale at local farmers' markets and to wine makers. Terry Nennich, a University of Minnesota horticulturist, and John Thull, vineyard manager at the University Arboretum, are participating in the research through the eight-county Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership.

Central Lakes College, the lone Minnesota partner in a 17-state grape and wine production educational consortium, is among the recipients of a $4.99 million National Science Foundation grant that will establish a National Center of Excellence.

CLC, as a member of the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), will receive $203,233, about $50,000 per year, during the four-year period. The purpose of the grant is to enable colleges across the country to train technicians with industry-validated credentials in grape and wine production.

VESTA began in 2003 as a three-state partnership and has since expanded to enroll almost 800 students from 41 states while increasing its network of partner vineyards and wineries from 64 in 2007 to 140 in 2011

The VESTA National Center of Excellence incorporates distance education to provide two-year institutions and the larger grape and wine production industry access to knowledge and skill development programs that would not be available if each institution had to sustain a program of its own.

"It will enable VESTA to expand the viticulture and enology curriculum to include wine business and entrepreneurship, provide Spanish versions of courses, provide a career pathway from technical certification to associate and baccalaureate degrees, and expand the awareness of career opportunities in this thriving alternative agricultural industry," said Dr. Suresh Tiwari, vice president of academic and student affairs at CLC.

He said the college is participating by giving students academic degree programs for employment in the rapidly expanding U.S. grape and wine production industry. "The purpose is not only to develop an industry workforce, but also to create opportunities for entrepreneurs who become the engines driving economic development."

CLC offers the Associate in Applied Science degree in Enology (wine production) and Viticulture (grape growing), with shorter diploma options. The coursework is online and includes internships.

A local vineyard demonstration site at the CLC Agricultural and Energy Center at Staples features several grape varieties in partnership with the University of Minnesota. More than 100 grapevines boast winter-hardy grape varieties suited to the north central climate.

Minnesota has nearly 30 wineries in production, using grapes grown and harvested in the region.