PVCC Connects Wineries, Breweries With Skilled Talent
Expertise in grapevine grafting and propagation, basic tractor repair, fermentation, and wine racking aren’t exactly skill sets that are widely found among the general population. Yet they are skills upon which the more than 800 wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries in Virginia depend. It’s to build this knowledge base that Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) outside Charlottesville, along the path of the 40-winery Monticello Wine Trail, offers the Commonwealth’s only workforce training certificate programs for training future viticulturists, winemakers, brewers, and tasting room managers.
PVCC’s programs are designed to guide tomorrow’s taste leaders through the process of creating exceptional beverages and tourism experiences, from finding and maintaining the right site to the mechanics of management, marketing, and sales. The workforce training certificate programs have the added benefit of connecting winery and brewery owners and operators with valuable resources, networking opportunities, and potential employees.
Program students range from novices curious about what it takes to be a part of Virginia’s growing wine and beer industry to current owners and operators looking to broaden their skills. To date, 10 wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail were started or purchased by PVCC workforce training certificate holders. Several students straddle both interests, growing hops and grapes. Many other certificate holders have gone on to internships or jobs with the local wineries, breweries, and distilleries that host these training opportunities.
Classes are led by local industry professionals, who also support curriculum development. A typical class might have 10 to 15 students, allowing ample opportunity for hands-on participation and discussion.
“Having our classes at working wineries, breweries, and distilleries adds significant value to the student experience,” said Christy Hawkins, dean of workforce services at PVCC. “When students are learning about pruning the vines, they’re actually out in the vineyards pruning vines. That’s really helpful in terms of connecting with jobs, because our partners see them out there learning these things and will then reach back out and say, ‘Remember that student you had last fall? Are they through the program yet? Are they ready for an internship?’”
Stan Joynes, CEO and co-founder of Valley Road Vineyards in Albemarle County, is proof of the lasting value the program provides. When Joynes, his wife, and four other couples decided to launch a vineyard, his first step was to enroll in PVCC classes.
“When we opened our tasting room to the public in August 2016, all but two of our servers were people I had met in the PVCC enology and viticulture classes. Some of those people are still with me today, six years later,” Joynes said. “It’s got a lot of value, especially if you want to network with people with similar interests.”
The strength of the program is that it really allows you to connect with professionals and people who are actually working in your area. The level of knowledge that is built into the program astounded me. It gives you the opportunity to experience every aspect of the business.
The program’s reach is about to expand. In 2018 PVCC received a GO Virginia grant that supported its efforts in curriculum development and establishing a career pathway from post-secondary instruction to employment, and it has evaluated sites for potential teaching wineries and breweries. Now it’s sharing its curriculum with Germanna Community College to help that school better serve the growing wine industry in Madison County.
While the pandemic’s gathering restrictions disrupted on-site classes, Hawkins noted that PVCC classes are back to their maximum level and finding demand. “We are so incredibly grateful for our partners that allow us to come in and teach the classes because it makes for such an incredible environment, to actually be able to be in a brewery or winery when they’re learning these things,” she said.