INA – The Illinois wine industry was first established in the 1700s. The first on-line class was introduced in the 1990s. Three years ago, they met in a learning model started by the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance, or VESTA. This year, Rend Lake College joined the VESTA project as it expands into 12 states.
RLC has been selected to receive nearly $500,000 in grant funding aimed at training a workforce for the surging Midwest grape and wine industry.
VESTA is a project funded by a National Science Foundation grant under the Advanced Technological Education sector, according to RLC Associate Professor of Biology Steve Holman.
"This will provide a well-trained industry in viticulture and enology – or grapes and wine – to meet the demand of the Illinois economy," he said.
Holman is a senior personnel member for VESTA in Illinois, charged with budgeting and managing the near half-million dollars RLC will realize over the next four years. Rend Lake is the only school in Illinois selected to participate in the grant opportunity through the NSF and ATE.
The grant will be used to set up a primarily on-line program through RLC toward an associate’s degree or certificate in one or both fields of viticulture and enology. Online courses like Intro to Viticulture and Vineyard Establishment, Intro to Enology, Winery Sanitation, Winery Equipment Operation and Marketing for Small Wineries, among others, will be available to students in Illinois and throughout the Midwest.
VESTA Principal Investigator and Executive Director Dr. Dale Law, based at Missouri State’s West Plains campus, said the program has drawn 270 students from 27 states over the last three years. It is the only on-line internet learning program of its kind.
RLC President Mark Kern, Vice President Jim Hull and Holman recently visited the Missouri Fruit Experiment Station in Mountain Grove, which is part of the Missouri State University system. Kern told the RLC Board of Trustees during their regular November meeting that apples were paramount during their visit to the Mountain Grove station – deemed a "regional center of excellence."
Nevertheless, they saw an opportunity in the VESTA project. Plans include establishing a vineyard plot on the RLC main campus in Ina where students could conduct field studies.
In addition to the on-line courses, an internship completed at a VESTA approved field site will be required. Any approved site will suffice, Holman said.
"If a student is taking one of our classes in Chicago, they can go to their local vineyard that has been approved by VESTA standards and do their field work there."
Holman added that local vineyards are encouraged to act as field sites.
"The list isn’t final yet," he said. "But there will be plenty around here. That will be one of our jobs over the next four years, to provide certified centers for the field practicum sites."
Funding will also be used to hire a coordinator who will recruit students for the program, he said.
"We have seen rapid growth in recent years throughout Illinois and the entire Midwest in the grape and wine industry," Holman told the RLC Board of Trustees. "Our goal is to supply this industry with well-trained and, preferably, local individuals to serve in all aspects of the industry ... from grape cultivating to raising your own vineyard, to grape and wine chemistry and starting your own winery business."
A degree and certificate program through RLC is planned to begin as early as the upcoming spring semester, pending approval from the college’s Curriculum Committee and the Illinois Community College Board. RLC may also create new classroom courses tailored to local industry.
The grant involves additional Midwest states Missouri, Oklahoma and Iowa for a total of $2.9 million in funding over the four-year period. That amount has been divided among RLC, Missouri State University - West Plains, Redlands Community College in Oklahoma and Northeast Iowa Community College.
From 2003-2005, the number of Illinois wineries and vineyards doubled as wine and wine grapes in the state had an economic impact of more than $253 million in 2005, according to an economic impact study of the Illinois wine industry conducted that year.
VESTA officials state, "Now is the time to take advantage of a program that harnesses the full power of the Internet and distance education technologies to bring master instructors and industry experts to you, anytime and anywhere."
Students can begin taking classes as early as the upcoming spring semester. To register or obtain additional information about available courses and cost, go on-line to www.vesta.org.
For more information about this release, one may contact Holman at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1722.