CLARKDALE - The burgeoning wine industry in the Verde Valley comprises more than vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms. It has an academic partner growing right along beside it.
"Quick Start," exploratory class offerings turned into credit courses and then into a certificate program in viticulture (grape growing). Soon, the certificate program will include enology (winemaking), and the cornerstone of that program will be an on-campus winery.
"It is a visionary project," said Yavapai College Verde Valley Dean Tom Schumacher. "But for us it is very doable."
Schumacher said the long-term goal for the college is to combine both the viticulture and enology certificates into an associate of arts degree. He said Yavapai College will be the place where people come to learn how to grow grapes and make wine.
It also will become a profit center for the college. "That is the intent of the whole thing," Schumacher said, "to make it profitable, to raise money for the school itself."
This all started with the birth of the college's viticulture program in 2009.
"We currently have an acre planted here," Schumacher said. That acre holds about 1,000 vines.
"By its third year, we hope to dry farm it," he said. That means growing the grapes with little or no irrigation.
The college has up to an additional 30 acres that could be included in the viticulture program. Schumacher said it is part of the plan to add more acres to growing grapes.
Although this program has been developing rapidly, it all began with small, careful steps. The first course, for information only, was offered in 2009. The course, Wine Appreciation, filled up. The next step was to offer courses for credit, to continue the evaluation.
In the fall of 2009, the college offered three credit courses in Wines of the World, Wines of the United States, and an Introduction to Viticulture. Schumacher said this approach to evaluating course offerings is called a quick start. "Those classes all filled," Schumacher said.
The next spring, the courses filled again. "We decided to move forward with it as a fully sanctioned course," Schumacher said. "It's a rigorous process."
During the academic year of 2010-2011, the college offered classes for certification in viticulture. It is an 18-month program with a big summer portion dedicated to a practicum.
"It's a 27-hour program," Schumacher explained, "so you're going full time."
He said the next logical step is enology. "We're in the process now of doing the enology certificate," he said. "We actually have the curriculum laid out."
That's where the project to remodel an existing building on campus into a fully operational winery comes in. The actual production of wine and the operation of wine tasting and wine sales will be operated through the Yavapai College Foundation. But it will be student run and part of the college's certificate and degree programs.
"We have this building on campus," Schumacher said. "It is underutilized. Our plan is to renovate that building into the winery."
He explained that the building was originally built as a racquetball center. But the courts weren't built to regulation dimensions. "It's like playing football on a 75-yard field," Schumacher said. Consequently, the building simply does not get used enough to justify keeping it open only for racquetball.
Its location next to the college's viticulture field makes it an ideal building to develop into the winery.
When this all comes together, the Yavapai College Foundation will have a wine tasting room and bottled wine to retail or wholesale. Schumacher says he already sees the potential for another certificate offering in operating a wine tasting room.
He said a profit center on campus, such as the Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College will become, is increasingly important. He said the college can no longer rely on money from the state. He said the college must become entrepreneurial or find partnerships.
"To date," Schumacher pointed out, "we've probably spent less than $1,000 on the viticulture program." And most of that money, he said, has gone to paying teachers. Most of the money has been raised through private partnering, according to Schumacher.
"This isn't somebody's wild idea," Schumacher said. "This is all data driven. We've got great things going on."