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Ohio’s first degree programs for wine industry

Posted Aug. 2, 2011

VESTA at Kent State Ashtabula

Kent State University at Ashtabula announces the approval by the Ohio Board of Regents to offer two new associate degree programs that will prepare students for skilled jobs in Ohio's multimillion-dollar wine and grape industry. Each degree program is the first of its kind in Ohio. The two new degree programs, the Associate of Applied Science Degree in Enology (the study of wine and winemaking) and the Associate of Applied Science Degree in Viticulture (the study of vine growing and grape harvesting), will be offered at the university's Ashtabula campus beginning Fall Semester 2011. Through an affiliation with the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), these two-year programs are the first college degrees related to winemaking offered in the state of Ohio.

"We're very excited to provide students the opportunity to study and eventually work in this industry that is so important to our region," said Dr. Susan Stocker, dean and chief administrative officer of Kent State Ashtabula.

Ohio ranks in the top 10 of wine-producing states and employs more than 4,000 people in the wine industry. Ashtabula County alone is home to 20 wineries, which are visited by nearly 500,000 people annually.

"For us it's an economic development issue," Stocker continued. "Having our program adjacent to the largest growing district in the state provides students with invaluable hands-on learning opportunities which will enhance their employability, both here and in wine regions across the country."

Courses are offered both online and in the classroom, covering topics such as sensory evaluation, winery equipment operation, geography of wine and regional vineyard management. The program is designed to be convenient for both traditional and non-traditional students to earn a degree or take a few classes. Plus, students will participate in hands-on training at local wineries and vineyards, of which there are many. Northeast Ohio contains over half the wine grape acreage in the state, and the majority of the state's 151 wineries are located in Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties.

Lori Lee, Office of Academic Services, Kent State University at Ashtabula with Tony Debevec, owner of Debonne Winery at the winery in Madison, OhioTony Debevec, owner of Debonne Vineyards in Madison, believes that his operation would benefit from professional training for his employees. "At Debonne, we train our workers on site. The availability of these wine programs at Kent State Ashtabula will shorten our training time, and provide us with an elevated quality of wine professionals for hire," Debevec said. "In addition, those who go to college have more than just the technical skills to bring to the workplace. They come with new ideas and experiences, as well as industry connections."

Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, has worked closely with Kent State Ashtabula and VESTA to bring the wine degrees to the Ashtabula campus. "We're elated that Kent State Ashtabula is committed to develop this program which will surely support the continued growth of high value regional agricultural, wine, tourism and hospitality industries," Winchell said. "As the Ohio wine community grows in both size and stature, it will be ever more important for our industry to find talented, well prepared individuals to work in our cellars, vineyards and tasting rooms." 

The wine industry's economic impact on the state's economy is estimated at $580 million annually, producing more than 850,000 gallons of wine each year.

Kent State Ashtabula will be showcasing the new programs at Vintage Ohio Wine Festival on Aug. 5 and 6 at Lake Metropark's Farmpark in Kirtland, Ohio.

Applications for the Fall 2011 semester are currently being accepted. Learn more here, or call (440) 964-4217.