Cayuga CC’s New Wine Studies Concentration Prepares Students for Growing Industry

For the past 12 years, Cayuga Community College has offered a credit-free course on wine appreciation. Economics Professor Bill Prosser and Robert Wojnar, national sales manager at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, co-teach the class. They received positive feedback on the course from students, including the desire for more courses about the wine industry.

“Many of our students had some kind of business experience, but wanted more knowledge about wine so they could work in the wine industry as sales representatives, as wine store owners, as sommeliers, or as employees of wineries,” Prosser said. “New York State is the No. 3 producer of wine in the United States, so it is a significant industry, especially in the Finger Lakes region.”

Since 2000, the number of new wineries in New York has exceeded the total in the previous 170 years, with a 160 of the 273 created in the last decade; and wineries bring in close to 5 million tourists a year, according to a study conducted by the New York Wine & Grape Industry. So while the wine industry is booming, does that indicate a need for more workers to be educated to enter this workforce?

Prosser, Biology Professor Mike Pacelli, and Professor Tom Paczkowski, the Fred L. Emerson Foundation Endowed Chair in Enterprise and Innovation, set out to conduct a more formal market study to see if indeed the College should launch a new wine studies concentration within its associate’s in business administration program. “What we discovered was very promising,” Prosser said.

With grant funding from a Campus Initiative Program of the Ewing M. Kauffman Foundation, the three along with Wojnar pulled together some key stakeholders to see if there was a need or desire for a more formal wine studies program. Assisted by Syracuse University Ph.D. student David Brannon, surveys were sent out to winery owners, tasting room managers, and general managers to gauge their interest in seeing academic courses offered in wine studies, and if so, what kinds of courses and how many.

Survey results indicated that employees of the wineries believed their business could benefit from having employees who had taken a few courses in enology, the study of wine-making; viticulture, the cultivation of grapes; and wine business management, marketing, and sales.

Prosser, Paczkowski, and Pacelli met with representatives from community colleges with wine studies programs in Oregon and Washington State. They also hosted a roundtable discussion at Cayuga with winery owners, restaurant owners, and representatives from nearby colleges with an interest in wine studies.

The result of their research is a three-course wine studies concentration within the A.A.S. in Business Administration. The concentration includes Introduction to Wines of the World, Introduction to Enology and Viticulture, and Wine Business Management, Marketing, and Sales. Students also are expected to take Biological Principles 1, a prerequisite before taking the Introduction to Enology and Viticulture class.

The first course will be offered this fall, and will pull in the expertise of local wine professional Robert Wojnar, who will teach the course.

“The goal of this program is to give students the knowledge to work in the established wine industry, not to create new amateur winemakers,” Prosser said. “Our hope is that five to 10 years down the road, we would partner with a local winery to develop a joint label with Cayuga Community College and the winery and establish a wine institute. We could provide student talent and labor, including tapping into our expertise into geographic information systems, and the winery could provide the grapes, expertise in wine-making, and supervision.”

Students who complete the concentration would know the difference between a Riesling and a Chardonnay, what pairs well with salmon, how to conduct a wine tasting, and how to market wines and the region, to name just a few areas.

“Based on the research we’ve seen, we believe these students would be well-prepared to enter the wine industry and advance the profession,” Prosser said.

For more information on the program, contact Bill Prosser at [email protected] or 315-255-1743, extension 2424.