Kent State OKs Winemaking Degrees

University in Ohio will offer associate degrees in enology and viticulture this fall

by Linda Jones McKee
Kent State Ashtabula
Kent State Ashtabula
Ashtabula, Ohio—With continuing growth in the number of vineyards and wineries in Ohio—WinesVinesDATA currently lists 125 wineries—demand for skilled wine industry workers has increased. On March 9, the Kent State University Board of Trustees addressed that need and created two associate-degree programs to prepare students for skilled jobs in Ohio’s multimillion-dollar wine and grape industry.

Starting in the fall of 2011, students at Kent State University at Ashtabula will be able to major in enology and viticulture and, after completing the two-year program, receive an associate of applied science degree in the field.

The Kent State program will be affiliated with the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), a National Science Foundation-funded partnership between the Missouri State University system, two-year colleges and universities in the Midwest, state agriculture agencies and vineyards and wineries in 11 states. VESTA was established about eight years ago to promote education in grapegrowing and winemaking.

Through its affiliation with VESTA, the Ashtabula campus will offer its associate degree programs throughout the state. Most courses are online, but students may also attend classes at Ashtabula or participate in intensive weekend sessions at other Ohio locations. All students will earn practical experience at wineries and vineyards in their home areas.

Susan Stocker, dean of Kent State’s Ashtabula campus, pointed out that the associate’s degree programs are an economic development issue. She commented that associate degree programs “support local employers, and graduates go out and get jobs and start working.”

Serving the needs of Ohio’s growing grape and wine industry has become increasingly important. Just two decades ago, according to Stocker, Ohio had fewer than 40 wineries. Most of the boutique-sized wineries founded in the 1990s have grown to produce 25,000 cases or more.

During the past 10 years, many existing wineries and numerous new growers have replaced plantings of native labrusca varieties with European-style vinifera grapes. Many of the new faces in the industry are launching agricultural careers far different than the lines of business from which they came, and there is a need both for well-trained cellar and vineyard staff. The program at Kent State University-Ashtabula will service that community.

Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, is enthusiastic about the program. “A 2008 economic impact study showed more than 4,000 people were working in the wine industry in Ohio. We are elated. We have been working with the university and the regents for better than two years.” 

For additional information, contact Dean Susan Stocker, Kent State University-Ashtabula at (440) 964-4212 or email sjstocker@kent.edu.

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