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New JCC winery course marks the start to a new program

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Whether it’s growing grapes, marketing the product or just drinking it, the many aspects of enjoying and making wine are the subject of a new course at Jefferson Community College.

“We have a great agricultural heritage up here and this is a real opportunity to tap into that,” said Vicki B. Quigley, dean of the business division at the college. “This is pretty exciting for us.”

JCC is offering a new course this year: Introduction to Winery Operations. It is part of a plan to add a winery program, which would be a concentration or track within the hospitality and tourism degree, in the way that a culinary concentration is offered. The goal is to admit students to that concentration next fall. But if students want to be in the program this year, they can take some of the college’s core hospitality and tourism classes and pick up the winery and grape-growing classes next year, Ms. Quigley said.

The idea for the program came two years ago when Stephen J. Conaway, owner of Thousand Islands Winery, Collins Landing, spoke at the college’s student entrepreneurship day. His presentation gave people at JCC a better understanding of the growth of the wine industry in the north country, and the establishment of other wineries, such as Coyote Moon Vineyards, Tug Hill Vineyards, Otter Creek Winery and Yellow Barn Winery, all played into the decision to start offering classes on the wine industry, Ms. Quigley said.

The class is a lot more popular than even what college officials were shooting for. They hoped to have eight students enroll this semester, and they got 27. Of those, only one was already a JCC student; the rest are people from the community who are growing grapes or are interested in doing so.

The course is being taught by Denise K. Young, who is also executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. She and her husband have a two-acre vineyard. When the wine industry started coming to the area, she researched where grapes could be grown and found that her sloped property was a good place for a vineyard, she said.

“If a well-established career professional in the north country sees something and is interested in it, I think we’re on to something,” Ms. Quigley said of Ms. Young. “She’s doing it herself, and she’s done so much research, it’s a perfect fit to have her teach this course.”

The course is an overview of the winery business. On Tuesday, Ms. Young shared some of her experiences with students, and much of the lecture focused on choosing a location for vines and how to manage them once they’re in the ground. Guest speaker Michael F. Maring from Tug Hill Vineyards also talked about his experience. The course will continue through the process, and students ultimately will learn about winemaking and tour Thousand Islands Winery, Ms. Young said.

“We have a good mix of people in class,” Ms. Young said. “We have people who want to grow grapes, make wine or both, or people who like to drink wine and want to know where it came from.”

Nickey L. Aubin, Black River, is taking the course after hearing about it from JCC’s Small Business Development Center. She probably will continue to take courses in a degree program when it’s offered, she said.

“My husband and I have been making wine for a while just for family and friends and we really like it,” Mrs. Aubin said. “We want to plant some vines and just learn all we can.”

As part of the new concentration, students will take an existing wine appreciation course and the winery operations course that’s starting this semester. New courses will be developed, such as specific grape growing and a course on New York wines, Ms. Quigley said.

“As a community college, we find where the needs are for qualified people,” Ms. Quigley said. “The projections in the coming years are that we could have 10 wineries opening here. There’s a need with wineries for marketing the product to local restaurants, in the wineries themselves, to wholesalers and beyond.”

David B. Fralick, Cape Vincent, is president of the NNY Grape Growers Association, and he is taking the winery operations course too. The association has four members in the JCC course, and Mr. Fralick has been trying to work with the educational community for a while, including agriculture teachers in high schools, to give them vines to work with.

“We’re here to see what the class is about, what we can learn and what we can contribute,” Mr. Fralick said. “This is a big step.”

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