Access matters. That’s why wineries are developing innovative partnerships with youth programs across the country. These initiatives introduce young people to vineyards and, potentially, future careers in viticulture, agronomy and agritourism.
The Michigan Wine Collaborative partnered with 4-H youth clubs and an urban winery and farm in Detroit to introduce grape-growing to children. For those who may not be able to travel to rural sites, Pingree Farms and Detroit Vineyards provide hands-on experiences.
As they finalize the curriculum and launch the MWC Talent Pipeline, the partners hope this will be a model of access and inclusion for youth outside of traditional wine areas nationwide.
Santa Rosa High School’s agricultural program has a 25-year partnership with Jackson Family Wines.
“The Jackson family not only helps the school manage the vineyard, but we also contract with them to purchase the fruit at fair market value,” says Lisa Piehl, a teacher with the program.
The program’s farm-to-table class takes students up to fermentation and focuses on business skills. Many alumni work in the wine industry.
In the Willamette Valley, the Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter at Yamhill Carlton High School plants and maintains its own vineyard, practicing everything from pruning and harvesting to testing soil to designing bottle labels.
The group has worked with Ken Wright Cellars since 2014. The winery uses the fruit to produce, typically, around 120 cases of Pinot Noir and rosé a year. Active alumni, many in the industry, manage the sales for fundraising.
Mason High School, north of Fredericksburg in wine country, is the first in the state to offer a viticulture program, prompted by Dan McLaughlin of Robert Clay Vineyards. Since 2015, Mason students have been studying the history and the science of healthy viticulture, planning a vineyard and hand harvesting.
A comprehensive curriculum is in development for the state.
The New Ag School (NAS) is a nonprofit, community effort to guide youth toward fields that drive the area’s economy, like wineries, breweries and agritourism. Founded and led by Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars, NAS offers career mentorship and a six-week “Think Outside” program for high-schoolers with hands-on learning and transferable work skills.
While the vineyard is a draw, the program’s coordinator, Jenna Moon, praises the diversity of activities.
“This has really worked,” she says. “We see children coming out of their shells. We’ve seen leaders emerge.”
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!