Dobson — Like the vines in its vineyard, Surry Community College’s Viticulture and Enology program continues to grow.
“We are going to provide a full on, hands-on technical experience for our students,” said Enology Instructor David N. Bower III. The program, which is housed in the Shelton-Badgett NC Center for Viticulture and Enology, is already bottling some wine.
Bower explained that all proceeds from the wine sales go back into the program with the goal to be making the Enology program self supporting. Students in the program will typically start in the summer in the vineyard and then participate in the fall wine production class. Viticulture students then choose a grape to work with and a certain fermentation style and produce wines through steel vat fermentations and wooden barrel fermentation.
This give the students knowledge of the grapes from vineyard operations to fermentation and bottling. Students are then required to come up with a graphic arts idea and recruit a Surry Community College (SCC) graphic arts student to design the label and finally students must pick the packaging. The finished products then will be marketed. Bower explained this process gives students knowledge of the entire process.
The school’s winery received its permit as a commercially bonded facility in 2003. The center has eight fermentation tanks which hold 263 gallons each for a total of 2,500 gallons. Wine produced at the center is further aged in oak barrels to intensify the aroma and “soften” the wine by limiting the oxygen during fermentation.
“We are lucky to have the lab that we do,” said Bower. “We’ve come a long way.”
Equipment at the center included a cutting edge de-stemming machine, a crusher and a hopper for processing grapes as well as a sorting table. The center also included a wine sensory lab, microbiology lab and wine analysis lab. The wine sensory labs refrigerator is loaded with bottles of “control” solutions so students can learn the smells indicative of good qualities in wine.
The sensory lab, by comparison, has controls that help students develop a nose for “faults” in wine which can range from smells reminiscent of garlic and cut grass. The ability to detect these scents allows students to diagnose problems in the young wines so the faults can be corrected.
Bower said the center also plans to offer a “wines of the world” course in the fall that will delve into the history, production and analysis of wine in the context of regions and their particular styles. This course has been offered before but will also be offered online this fall. The center continues to trail grape varieties in an effort to discover what grapes grow best in North Carolina. This has been accomplished through a cooperative program with N.C. State’s Professor Sara Spayd.
Education and agriculture runs in Bower’s family. Bower began working in his father’s vineyard at 12 years old. He said his father got into the vineyard business after ripping out his cherry orchard in New York State. Bower’s mother was a community college teacher and her mother taught English.
“I am really looking forward to harvest time,” said Bower, who explained round the clock attention has to be given the “cap” or mat of rind and pulp material that floats over the new wine solution. Wine makers must punch down the cap at harvest time to keep it moistened. This layer of material imparts color and flavors to the liquid and must be kept moist to limit harmful bacteria from growing by pushing it down into the liquid.
“We’ve been doing a good job but we are going to be forward thinking, said Bower.
SCC Public Information Officer Marion Venable explained that from its beginning the center has brought talent to the area.
“When we began to talk bout this program,” said Venable, “Charlie and Ed Shelton of Shelton Vineyards told us they wanted to come back home and establish a vineyard and we needed to train a workforce.” Venable said SCC had a vineyard in the 1970s. For instance, the first speaker for the center was Dr. Richard Smart of Australia, a world renowned expert known as The Flying Doctor.
“I think from the beginning SCC wanted to be at the forefront of activity. It is important that the quality the wine itself be improved by our efforts and to broker grapes.” Venable is quick to admit that the industry is costly for its participants. Although some vineyards have closed in North Carolina, others have opened. There was a total of 22 vineyards in the state in 2001.
Bower and Venable like that many of the state’s vineyards possess unique characters and resemble European vineyards. Venable said that while the public has been slow to embrace the vineyard industry in North Caroline one of the largest concentrations of vineyards is in our region. She foresees these unique vineyards as another draw for tourism in addition to the areas history and natural beauty.