Oregon's Original Wine Country Reborn
Southern Oregon Wine Institute hopes to jumpstart local wine industry
It was established in 2005 at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg as the first viticulture and enology program in Oregon outside Willamette Valley.
Ironically, the first commercial vineyards in Oregon were in the generally warmer southern part of the state, though the cooler Willamette Valley to the north now contains far more wineries and gets more attention.
The overall economy may be sputtering, but Douglas County’s wine industry is booming. The number of wineries in the region has doubled in the past decade, and new growers and wine producers continue to add jobs to the local workforce at a pace that out-distances any other local industry. One study predicts that wine production in the region will increase five-fold during the next decade.
The Southern Oregon Wine Institute was established to educate and train students interested in working with growers or winemakers or establishing ventures of their own. It raised $7 million including donations and recovery funds and moved into the new Danny Lang Teaching, Learning and Event Center late last year. Chris Lake joined as director in 2008.
Established to serve a six-county region, SOWI contains classrooms, a working commercial winery, a tasting room and incubator space for new wineries. A teaching vineyard is on the grounds as well.
The Danny Lang center also contains space for events not related to wine including food service preparation space. The college has a complementary culinary program that provides food for events.
Within the center is an office and lab for ETS Laboratories that will serve the area’s wineries as well as students.
Construction and equipment
The modern hilltop center showcases wood construction materials in its design to support local industry.
As a mixed-used academic building, the Danny Lang Teaching, Learning, and Event Center houses a program combining a fully functional teaching winery, labs and classrooms, a tasting room, event space, administrative offices, and support spaces with high-efficiency mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.
Only about one-third of the winery space is needed for instruction; the rest is planned as an incubator for new wineries.
The surrounding vineyards are named for Scott Henry, the Umpqua Valley winemaker instrumental to getting the whole project started.
The steep southwest-facing slopes are planted to Nebbiolo, an unusual choice, Lake admits, noting that it buds early, which is ideal for students. He also jokes, “It may be a good laboratory for grafting later on.”
Grapes are destemmed and crushed, if needed, at a high level in the facility, then transferred by gravity for fermentation in tanks or barrels. The school is buying new equipment; part has been installed, with more due before harvest.
This includes up-to-date equipment such as sorting tables and cross-flow filters. It will also have some used equipment donated by wineries for students to try and learn to maintain.
The Victory Builders Fermentation Cellar is designed to maximize energy efficiency and safety during winemaking and instruction. It is typical of a medium-sized winery, with water, coolant and gas lines available as needed.
Three barrel rooms also provide space for sharing with start-up wineries.
The Dr. Blaine D. Nisson Library is named after the former Umpqua College president who saw the project through. Donated, designed, and built by Victory Builders of Roseburg. It will display historical wine artifacts, donated by the Douglas County Museum, dating from 610 AD, plus a collection of the award-winning wines from Southern Oregon for the wine library. The wine library will be a meeting room, a premiere space for special events and smaller gatherings.
Many classes will be taught online, but separate classroom-labs for viticulture and enology sessions on the lower floor have easy access to both the teaching winery and the learning vineyard.
These classes are configured as basic chemistry/science laboratories to teach the science that underpins enology and viticulture: soil science, botany, entomology, microbiology, chemistry, etc.
ETS Laboratories will have an onsite lab. It will work with students, but also local wineries. ETS offers wineries a combination of routine analytical services and proprietary, accredited analytical methods.
An unusual feature is a realistic tasting bar designed to give students a “real world” hospitality experience. The tasting bar is where students will sell the wines they have made. Students will learn whether the wine they made appeals to customers.
Banquet seating or conference space for up to 200 people is next to the tasting room.
Umpqua Community College offers a one-year certificate program in viticulture (grapegrowing) as well as a two-year degree in viticulture and enology (winemaking). It even offers course in marketing wine.
The first-year certificate prepares students for entry into the industry and initiates the two-year associate in applied science degree in viticulture and enology for those who choose to study further.
Classes include an introduction to grapegrowing, basic principles of soil science, vineyard practices throughout all four seasons and practical work experience.
The second-year curriculum emphasizes winemaking and includes the chemistry of winemaking, principles of wine production and work experience opportunities.
UCC also provides a starting point for students wishing to transfer to related four-year degree programs at Oregon State University, Southern Oregon University and Oregon Institute of Technology.
The Wine Marketing Assistant Pathway Certificate includes parts of the full viticulture and enology one-year certificate and two-year degree that prepare students for entry level positions in wine sales and distribution.
The school has about 50 students at present; it has had up to 75, but the recession and reduced financial aid has had its impact.