Yavapai College’s nationally recognized wine program is fueling workers and new industry in the burgeoning wine country of Verde Valley and beyond. To meet demand across the Southwest, the college has launched its first online certification program.

Rural Arizona communities like Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Sonoita-Elgin, and Willcox are reaping the benefits. Arizona wine tourism creates an annual $56.2 million in total economic output, according to the state Office of Tourism.

“There’s a lot of economic development happening in rural Arizona as a product of the wine program, not just in the wine industry but in tourism, restaurants and hotels,” said Michael Pierce, program director of the Viticulture and Enology Program at the college.

With its own vineyard, winery and tasting room, the college’s program has blossomed along with the wineries along the Verde Valley Wine Trail.

What started as a few community education classes has evolved into a sophisticated program with triple-digit enrollment, Pierce said.

In turn, there were few vineyards in the Verde Valley region in the early 2000s. Now, there are about two dozen.

Many students have gone on to work at or open their own wineries in the region including heart Wood Cellars, oDDity Wine CollectiVe, Mogollon Vineyards, Salt Mine Vineyards, and 1764 Vineyards, Pierce said.

“The average age of our students is 48 and a half, and many are entrepreneurs who want to own their own vineyard or winery, running the business,” said Pierce. “You’re going to continue to see the wine and other ancillary industries grow.”

Vineyard, tasting room and winery training ground 

Degrees in viticulture and enology are offered at only a small number of schools across the nation. Even fewer offer online certifications.

For those wanting to take on the task of growing or selling wine, Yavapai College’s Southwest Wine Center provides a 13-acre teaching vineyard, winery and tasting room that is open to the public.

Students who like to work with their hands can learn the art of winemaking. Those more interested in selling can learn every aspect of the business in the 3,000-case capacity winery and tasting room.

Through its high scale operations, the program has become a region-wide wine industry research epicenter, Pierce said.

Ideal industry for drought-stricken Southwest  

Best of all, grape growing is a near-perfect industry for a drought-stricken Southwest.

“Grapes are a low-water-use crop with high economic return,” Pierce said.

Water conservation and sustainable features are designed into the college’s vineyard and LEED-certified winery. The nearby city of Cottonwood provides reclaimed water for irrigation. Energy-efficient practices include night cooling, rainwater harvesting, and occupancy timers, making it a net-zero water user. Repurposed materials are used throughout. The winery building once was a racquetball court.

Take your pick 

Students and entrepreneurs can earn a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in Viticulture and Enology, one-year certificates in both, and new online certifications:

Associate of Applied Science Degree in Viticulture and Enology prepares students for a variety of careers in vineyards and wineries including vineyard workers, crew leaders, managers, viticulturists, winemakers, cellar workers, lab technicians, marketing and sales, and more.

Enology Certificate prepares individuals for careers in the wine industry with an emphasis on wine production, sales, and liquor industry compliance. Classroom instruction, laboratory and winery applications of enological principles and practices are covered.

Viticulture Fundamentals Certificate prepares individuals for careers in the grape growing industry. This online program includes weekend laboratory field applications of viticultural principles on site.

Viticulture Advanced Certificate is designed to prepare individuals for various careers in the grape growing industry. This also is an online program plus weekend laboratory field applications of viticultural principles.


This story was originally published at Chamber Business News.