MADISON COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - A vineyard owner in Madison County is expanding a program to train a new generation of grape growers and winemakers. The program teaches students viticulture years before they can legally taste the fruits of their labor.
“Vineyard owners are crying out for labor. These are good jobs, and they get to stay where they’re familiar and help the economy,” Seillier-Moiseiwitsch said.
According to a study commissioned by the Virginia Wine Board, wine industry jobs in Virginia increased 73% in five years to employ 8,218 people.
“We saw it as an opportunity for students to find more jobs in the agriculture field. It’s a growing area. Growing grapes here in Virginia is multiplying every year,” Madison County High School Career and Technical Education Chair Jayne Penn Hollar said.
Through four classroom lectures, students learn about grape varietals that grow well in Virginia, plotting locations to plant vines, pest management, and harvesting. They even get to sample some of the non-alcoholic fruits of vineyard labor including verjus.
“Giving them a little taste of what happens when they see their grape jelly or grape juice, what goes into creating that product,” Seillier-Moiseiwitsch said.
The students travel to two vineyards in the county, including Revalation, so they can see what they learn in class in action.
“Nothing is as good as stepping into a vineyard and seeing what’s around and really getting a feel of what’s around you,” Seillier-Moiseiwtisch said.
“I think it’s really important, especially with Madison being so rural. Kids can, if they want to, go into something with farming. They get more opportunities to do things,” Madison County High School senior Jennifer Johnson said.
Seillier-Moiseiwitsch hires students from the program to work in the vineyard after-school, on weekends, and in the summer. The current vineyard manager at Revalation is a former student from the viticulture program at Madison County High School.
A grant from the Virginia Wine Board will provide a stipend to grape growers who hire high school students as interns. The viticulture program also received a grant to expand to high schools in other counties. Schools that are interested in starting a viticulture program should contact Seillier-Moiseiwitsch at email@example.com.