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UCC wine program a boost for community

Cassie Bauer / Mainstream
Shelly Prater, Jayme Wilson, Kendra Wilson are working to pair student wines with locally produced foods in the SOWI tasting room.

Southern Oregon is becoming more renowned for wine production and viticulture, and UCC has recently – literally – been put on the map in the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers’ wine passport program.

The passport program provides a map and passport for wine enthusiasts to navigate self-led wine tours of the Umpqua Valley. Each winery then stamps the visitor’s passport; after five stamps, a small gift is earned and the traveler is entered into a drawing for local wine.

The Southern Oregon Wine Institute, or SOWI, was established in 2008 and boasts its own Viticulture & Enology program, the first of its kind outside of the Willamette Valley.

The program began at a propitious time as shifts to warmer temperatures caused many California wine varietals to grow undesirably sweet, sending buyers to Oregon.

“We’re introducing the wine business and entrepreneurship [to students],” Shelly Prater, Interim program director of the Southern Oregon wine institute, said. “It’s one thing to be taught, but at [SOWI], it’s experienced.”

While students receive training in the more scientific aspects of cultivating and growing grapes and crafting wines, in conjunction, they are also instructed in working and managing a tasting room, and selling their products. Students are also supported after graduation.

Paige Cook, a second year student in the program, plans to use UCC’s facility to advantage after graduation. “I’m renting the space for six years,” Cook said in reference to the winery and its equipment. “I’m planning on staying here while I have the space to get started and then moving up to Portland and opening a tasting room.”

Cook also crafts white wine for another vineyard and winery local to the Umpqua Valley as well as working on her own wines.

The UCC winery facility is a veritable playground for those with a vision for their craft. “I like to think of it as a sandbox with every toy you can think of,” Chris Lake, director of the Southern Oregon Wine Institute, said. “It’s full of tools old and new, and the winemakers can decide what they want to do with them.”

In essence, students have control over what they create. “If it fails, well, that’s just part of the learning,” Lake said.

As well as its state-of-the-art winery, the institute also affords plenty of community rental space. The library, a rustic room with hand troweled cement walls and an old-world flair on the lower level of the institute, has been used for a bridal suite for weddings, local business meetings and even some of UCC’s administrative meetings. The upstairs and patio are available for rent as well.

Community interest is being considered in new plans for the institute’s tasting room. “We want to incorporate local food,” Prater said. In the spring, the tasting room will also offer food pairings for each of the wines at an additional cost.

In the tasting room, the institute’s student-crafted wines can be sampled Fridays and Saturdays. Beginning in April, the tasting room will also be open on Sundays. The tasting fee of $5 is waived with the purchase of a bottle. The fee is also waived for UCC faculty and staff and those who work in the wine industry.

With a new permit in place, the tasting room can now offer wines by the glass or by the bottle for consumption on the premises, including on the patio which has been set up for the purpose of offering a comfortable setting for guests.

Jayme Wilson, student beverage captain, is knowledgeable about the wines offered in the tasting room. “We offer nine wines right now. All of the wines are made here,” Wilson said. Of those nine, two have recently been recognized for their quality in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Both the 2011 Riverhawk Red and the 2012 Malbec earned silver rankings. The 2012 Chardonnay has been entered and won a gold award in this year’s Greatest of the Grape competition, a yearly wine event held at Seven Feathers Casino.

For winter term, 38 students are enrolled in the program, and Prater expects the numbers to rise well over and above for spring term. “The goal is to reach 100 students enrolled. That’s our cap,” Prater said.

The institute also connects students to community wine businesses. “Students must all do a 10 credit CWE internship before they leave,” Wilson said.

“It’s all about incubating new jobs in the community,” Cook said.