INA, Ill. – The Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) program through Rend Lake College recently celebrated its first graduate.
Randy Small of Carbondale is the first student to earn a certificate through the program. Small, 58, has taken VESTA courses for years. Since he’s already in the workforce – he’s the assistant wine maker at Blue Sky Vineyards in Makanda – enrolling in VESTA courses was more a way of developing as a professional than preparing for a career. The certificate was never part of the plan. But when he learned he was only a couple of classes from earning the certificate, he decided to go for it, he said.
Small recently picked up his Occupational Certificate in Enology at the college. Viticulture is grape growing while enology is wine making. While he was at RLC, Small met with VESTA Coordinator Candy Fitch-Deitz, Vice President of Career-Technology Instruction Lisa Payne and President Terry Wilkerson.
When asked what he enjoyed most about VESTA, Small said one thing was his class in wine microorganisms because he used what he learned immediately on the job. Another thing he mentioned was going on field trips to conferences with students who were a lot like him.
Fitch-Deitz said about 1,000 students nationwide have enrolled in a VESTA course with 166 of those residing in Illinois. She said 342 students enrolled in VESTA courses during 2012 and there are 17 partner schools across the country involved in VESTA.
“The students in VESTA gain real-world, hands-on experience at field sites like vineyards and wineries all over the place,” said Fitch-Deitz. “Students, professionals in the industry and the general public can all find value in workshops through VESTA that increase their knowledge about viticulture and enology.”
She added that two classes – Introduction to Viticulture and Introduction to Enology – can now be taken on-campus at Rend Lake. A teaching vineyard was also established at the college earlier this year.
“The new teaching vineyard gives our students hands-on experience without having to step off of campus,” she said. “Our plan is to establish a minimum of two new rows of grapes per year for the next four years, so we are very excited about that new addition.”