Virginia Tech has been chosen to conduct a study on the feasibility of a wine education center in Purcellville.
The education center would be used to provide a local workforce pipeline to the more than 40 wineries in the area which have more than $5 million in economic impact, according to the county Department of Economic Development.
The whole scenario began earlier this year when the Town of Purcellville applied for an Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund grant to study the potential viability of a viticulture and enology program, which would likely be run by Northern Virginia Community College.
Matching funds from the Town of Purcellville and Loudoun County paired with the $17,500 AFID grant will be used to cover the $26,000 study.
The AFID grant application was originally spurred on by the results of a survey of winemakers conducted by the department of economic development.
“We surveyed winery owners last fall, and the numbers were telling,” said Loudoun Economic Development Director Buddy Rizer. “Most respondents said it’s difficult to find employees with training and experience. Because of projected growth in the Loudoun winery industry over the next few years, 85 percent of respondents say they’ll need to hire skilled employees. Eighty-eight percent would pay a higher wage for employees with viticulture and enology certifications or degrees.”
The certification programs would hopefully build up an early educational and cultural experience for future winemakers.
In France there are similar enology programs located in Amboise, Champagne and Beaune where high schools students learn to grow wine grapes and make wine.
The programs are treated like vocational schools here in the states.
“We want the Viticulture and Enology Education Center to be a science-based, practical workforce training center for regional wineries, as well as for the local grape, beer and cider industries,” said Purcellville Mayor Bob Lazaro in a prepared statement. “This facility will enhance and promote the regional tourism industry, through focusing on teaching and research.”
The prepared statement also noted, "Assisting Virginia Tech will be a working group of staff from the town, county and the Northern Virginia Community College; members from the Loudoun Wine Growers Association, the Loudoun County Rural Economic Development Council, the Loudoun Winery Association and the Purcellville business community, along with an enology extension specialist and an additional Loudoun County winery owner."
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