Wine symposium looks to nurturing workforce

David Broyles Staff Reporter

November 7, 2013

DOBSON — Surry Community College and the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) are seeking to help grow and manage the industry’s future workforce just as vineyard workers painstakingly control the growth of the leaf canopy on vines.

A group of about 100 participants was given this insight during a presentation by Alliance Director, Viticulture and Enology Science Michelle Norgren at the college’s second annual symposium at the Shelton-Badgett Center for Viticulture and Enology.

Norgren’s presentation began with an overview of the alliance, which is a 19-state partnership funded by the National Science Foundation. She explained about how confusion occurs in the industry because of unspecific job requirements for employers and employees.

“A lot of our students are entrepreneurs,” said Norgren, who explained the group feels it is important to know the expertise of students entering the industry. She said a large part of their efforts are directed AT finding out what the industry is saying about its expectationS and what particular jobs might entail.

Norgren noted in many other trades there are national standards of competency and job descriptions which is not the case in the wine growing industry in the United States. She said the alliance intends to use its information to refine courses and better assess what students must know to be successful.

“I’m really one for not re-inventing the wheel,” said Norgren. “In the long term we want to develop competences so employees can enter the workplace with the needed skills. The challenge is that much of this for you (the participants) is under one umbrella. To do this nationally we have to break it down into subsets with a language we agree on.”

She said such descriptions can be gleaned from similar workplace competency standards projects. One she mentioned is the New Zealand wine industry. Another is the Federal Department of Labor’s O-Net data base and methodology of competency models from industries including aerospace, retail and geospacial technology.

Norgren said the alliance’s next step after using input from local industry and educators would be to bring another party to the table for comment.

“We all know the biggest gorilla in the room is California,” said Norgren. “If you don’t invite them in to this project it will go no where.” She predicted another “hard year of work” before the federal level.

Earlier in the day Dr. David Shockley began the event by speaking to those in attendance about the importance of hospitality.

“It’s important the hospitality you have while you’re here is first rate,” said Shockley. “We’re so pleased to be hosing this second annual symposium.” He praised the support of VESTA and industries for making the event possible. Shockley concluded his speech by hoping the participants were enjoying a successful harvest and said the college vineyard had weather “monsoon” rains a produced well.

SCC Enology Instructor David Bower told the participants that while not all aspects of the industry are based solely in science it remains a very technical business. One sentiment expressed by participants was they have learned their business and winery is only as good as their workers.

“We just wanted an event where all of the participants could take back something,” said Bower. “We had 20 participants that first year. We will have our Enology and Viticulture students dressed in blue Surry Cellars shirts available to answer you’re questions. We are a fully bonded winery now and have produced more than a thousand cases (of wine).”

The symposium features educational workshops and seminars from East Coast viiculture and enology professionals. It is scheduled to conclude today with a lecture on the economic impact of a strong college wine program by Bower and Sabrina Leuck of Walla Walla Community College in Washington State.

Reach David Broyles at or 336-719-1952.