Students at Yavapai College’s Verde Valley campus have a very different kind of college experience. They’re learning how to grow grapes and make wine in the Southwest Wine Center’s Viticulture and Enology Program.
They can earn a certificate in viticulture, or take the full two-year program for an associates degree in viticulture and enology. Program director Michael Pierce says they’ve had students from twenty-one to eighty-six years old.
On the academic side, the program includes courses in soils, water, insects, along with how to establishing and operating a vineyard. The associate track adds the science of winemaking, some chemistry and microbiology, and of course, learning that all-important sensory evaluation of wine.
Beyond the classroom walls, students gain hands-in-the-dirt training at the center’s 13-acre teaching vineyard and winery at the foot of Mingus Mountain in Clarkdale.
Thirteen different varieties of grapes are growing now—familiar Cabernet Sauvignons and Grenaches, and experimental kinds like Refosco and Tannat—as the center looks for the handful that do extremely well, Pierce says.
The program aims to prepare students for careers, sometimes second careers, as vineyard designers, cellar masters, or tasting room managers. They get business experience partnering with local vineyards in the Verde Valley and around Arizona.
In late summer the grapes are harvested and crushed. Then the wine is aged in oak barrels and bottled on site under the Southwest Wine Center label. Last vintage, about 9,600 bottles were produced. The public can sample the fruits of their labor in the tasting room—and enjoy that elusive quality of wine called terroir.