What wine can teach us

How a five hour drive to wine country is helping us expose the critical role of education in craft beverage making.

img_2433We recently traveled to Walla Walla, Wash., for a chance to meet with representatives from Walla Walla Community College’s Enology & Viticulture program.  A staple in the explosion of the region’s wine industry since 2001, Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) offers degree programs for wine enthusiasts and future vintners and viticulturists, and has become an inspiration for the craft brewing, distilling, and cider making programs in the works at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC).

Thanks to our WWCC hosts Melissa Thiessen and Jess Gilmore, our thirst for knowledge was quenched at College Cellars, the college’s tasting room and home of the Enology & Viticulture program.  We walked away with the confidence that we’re making the right steps at SPSCC—and with three key lessons that we’re ready to put to work in Thurston County.

1. Introduce non-credit classes before degree program launch to gauge community interest.

img_2424WWCC was quick to identify the importance of offering non-credit classes to see what level of interest the community has in different areas of craft beverage arts.  For example, WWCC offers certificates and degrees in Wine Business, Fermentation Sciences, Viticulture, and transfer AAS degrees.  But they also offer wine appreciation and wine tasting classes to community and visitors to the region.  Our hosts recommended offering 2-3 non-credit classes per quarter, a good fit for them, and that non-credit courses involve a chance to taste the beverages and have a lot of fun.

Strategically, we’re on track and doing most of this already.  Upcoming non-credit classes with community partners are helping us fine-tune program details and curriculum, including ‘So You Want to Start a Brewery?’ with Top Rung Brewing Company, ‘Brewing Science for the Home Brewer – Dark Beer’ with Fish Brewing Company, and ‘The Language of Whiskey’ with The Whiskey People.  We also take advantage of meeting more local brewers, distillers, and cider makers and learning what they’re looking for from future employees.

2. Maintain strong relationships with community partners and other college programs as for-credit educational programs develop.

 img_2428A great part about a community college launching a craft beverage program is that it already offers programs that closely relate to and support the new program.  WWCC shared the close relationship between their Culinary and Enology & Viticulture programs for dinners paired with their wines.  They also shared the importance of connecting to community agriculture and statewide alliances and guilds, and having a strong and active advisory committee.

From business to science to culinary, there are many obvious intersections between existing SPSCC programs and upcoming Craft Brewing, Distilling, and Cider Making programs.  We intend to leverage the outstanding cuisine of our Culinary Arts students with the craft beverages we develop in our new programs, offering paired dinners, tastings, and events for our community.  We also value the relationships we’ve been developing with local brewers, distillers, and cider makers, as well as the Washington Brewers Guild, the Washington Distillers Guild, and the Northwest Cider Association.  Finally, we’re lucky to have passionate staff and faculty that are ready to see this program to a successful launch with the help of community connections and our partners with the Craft Brewing and Distilling Center.

3. Education is critical in preparing a region for tremendous growth and economic impact.

img_2420WWCC received grants in 2006 and 2011 to evaluate the economic impact of the industry on the regional economy, totaling an impressive $96 million in 2011.  Currently conducting another study, the college’s economic impact projections are pointed at upwards of $300 million.

WWCC shared this—and we share this now—because it is important to have the data that identifies the areas of growth.  We strongly believe that the impact WWCC made in its region can be replicated in Thurston County in craft brewing, distilling, and cider making.

In fact, a recent feasibility study estimates that the creation of a craft brewing and distilling center in Thurston County would create 662 jobs and put $101 million into the local economy.  But it starts with the education that SPSCC will provide through its new programs and education will be the backbone of the growth.  We’re proud to be the ones serving the community in this capacity.

Learn more about our progress

Stay up-to-date on program development and additional milestone achievements.  Follow this blog and receive email updates when we’ve got something great to share.

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