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Breaking Ground in Geneva, N.Y.

Finger Lakes Community College to build teaching winery

by Linda Jones McKee
The new 8,900-square-foot center will include a teaching winery, an enology laboratory, a crush pad, rooms for storing and aging wine, classroom and office space as well as a teaching vineyard.
Geneva, N.Y.—The wine industry in New York state has expanded rapidly within the past 25 years, and with that expansion has come the need for skilled workers in all aspects of the grape and wine business. On Oct. 24, the Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) broke ground and started on a year-long project to build the FLCC Viticulture Center at the Cornell University Agriculture and Food Technology Park (a.k.a. the “Tech Farm”) adjacent to Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) in Geneva, N.Y. The new 8,900-square-foot center will include a teaching winery, an enology laboratory, a crush pad, rooms for storing and aging wine, classroom and office space as well as a teaching vineyard. Students in the college’s wine technology and viticulture program will use the new facility.

The project is estimated to cost $3.65 million, with $3.25 million coming from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and the balance from the FLCC Foundation and State University of New York system. While most community college projects in New York are funded with a 50-50 split between the state and the college, in this case state Sen. Michael Nozzolio from Fayette, N.Y., in Seneca County and Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb of Canandaigua, N.Y., helped secure funding from the state to cover the majority of the cost.

Although the new teaching winery at the Tech Farm will be located next to the NYSAES, its purpose will be quite different than that of the research winery at NYSAES. The Experiment Station’s winery is used for making wine to support ongoing research experiments such as grape breeding trials and plant pathology testing as well as to train upper-division and graduate students in enology and viticulture. The FLCC winery will be another tool for providing practical experience for students in the college’s certified two-year program, which leads to an applied science associate degree in viticulture and wine technology.

The FLCC program, which was approved by the New York Education Department in 2009, is designed to provide students with the skills and knowledge needed to work for vineyards and wineries in the Finger Lakes region. In consultation with regional wineries, FLCC determined that employers were looking for well-rounded individuals with knowledge of biology and chemistry as well as practical vocational skills that apply to growing grapes and making wine.

Students who successfully meet the requirements of the program have the option of transferring to Cornell University’s viticulture-enology program in Ithaca, N.Y., or seeking employment in the wine industry. When the program started in September 2009, there were 25 students who took the first class, “Introduction to Wines and Vines.” According to Paul Brock, assistant professor of viticulture at FLCC, this fall he has 30 first-year and 19 second-year students. “FLCC is drawing non-traditional students who range from their mid-20s to mid-40s, and most of them are looking at second careers,” Brock told Wines & Vines. “Many already have college degrees, so we haven’t had many take advantage of the option to continue with the undergraduate program at Cornell. I’m the link between the industry and my students, and people who want jobs have generally found them. There are actually more positions than I have students to fill; most find jobs within the region, but we now have former students working in California, on Long Island, and even one in New Zealand.”

College president Barbara Risser, stated, “We believe that the Finger Lakes wine industry is at a tipping point, poised for national recognition as the premier wine region in the Northeast. Our program’s mission is to educate the local workforce, helping to elevate the quality of wine from our region.”

Brock adds, “I’m really excited for my students. They’re the ones who will benefit from the new building with all its bells and whistles and technology. We’re part of a growing industry, and I believe our students will eventually impact the wine quality of the entire region in a positive way.”

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