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Texas Tech pouring professionals into Texas’ booming wine industry

Texas Tech pouring professionals into Texas’ booming wine industry

You’ve heard it on the grapevine; the U.S. wine industry isn’t just in California. Nowadays, it seems everyone is producing wines, including the Texas High Plains. In fact, this cotton-dominated region today has the most acreage of wine grapes in the Lone Star state.

That uptick in tonnage has also produced a positive economic side effect of upping demand for trained professional to work in these booming businesses. One of the leaders in putting graduates into wine’s personnel pipeline is Texas Tech University, and its budding viticulture and enology program.

Housed in Texas Tech’s Department of Plant and Soil Science, the school offers the state’s only four-year undergraduate viticulture and enology program, a career specialty offered under its horticultural and turfgrass sciences major, and includes courses in winemaking, propagation, wine production and winemaking quality control.

“We’re just beginning to have an impact by placing university-trained graduates in wine industry jobs, but we have the potential to be a major contributor to the growth of the Texas wine and beyond,” said Ed Hellman, a professor of viticulture and one of the program’s three teaching faculty. “We’ve got 16 undergraduates in the program now, many who are already working part-time at local wineries.”

Internships provide students with real-world work experience in vineyards and wineries, and at the same time introduces them to key people in the grape and wine industry, said Hellman, who holds a joint appointment with Texas AgriLife Extension Service. These connections may also help lead to employment after graduation.

“I’ve tried to set myself apart by taking full advantage of the local market while attending school,” said Krystin Herrera, a senior from Lubbock. She’s now working as the winery operations manager at Lubbock’s McPherson Cellars, after serving as the firm’s tasting room manager and tasting room tour guide.

“This degree is unique in that it’s immediately applicable upon graduation,” Herrera said.

These days most of the nation’s grape and wine production undergraduate programs are centered on the coasts in either California, Washington and Oregon or in New York. In the great divide between there’s only Texas Tech, Colorado State and the University of Missouri with their own collegiate viticulture and enology programs.

Texas Tech’s program focuses primarily on the classic European wine grape vitis vinifera, which comprises the vast majority of wine production worldwide, including Texas. Prohibition nearly wiped out Texas’s wine industry, but it re-emerged in the 1970s and now embraces more than 160 wineries in four regions.

Written by Kelsey Fletcher

CONTACT: Ed Hellman, Professor of Viticulture with joint appointment with Texas AgriLife Extension, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University at (806) 746-6101 or ed.hellman@ttu.edu

0508NM12 / PHOTOS: Texas AgriLife Extension Service

 

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