By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Vineyard hands-on for high schoolers

The idea for the new educational tool originated with Ken Wright of Carlton’s Ken Wright Cellars. He planted the first seed with the Yamhill Carlton Winemakers Association, and it grew from there.

Joel Kiff, who serves on the association board with Wright, said it reminded him of his high school days in Healdsburg, Calif. He participated in a viticulture program there under teacher Rod Wallstrum, who wanted to plant a vineyard, but couldn’t locate a site.

Kiff contacted Wallstrum, now retired, who was happy to offer assistance in what soon developed into a full-blown public-private partnership. Chemeketa Community College even joined, allowing participating high schoolers to earn college credits.

“It’s pretty amazing to think about all of the people and organizations that have come together to make this happen,” Wright said. “It’s the kind of partnership that rarely happens.”

He said the timing couldn’t have been better.

“It was honestly such an easy project to bring together,” he said. The school board and superintendent have been supportive of the whole project since its inception, he said.

The wine industry, Wright pointed out, has become an important employer in the county, with 6,500 acres now planted in grapes. “Now that we’re a community that’s going to stay, it’s our duty to provide opportunity to our children,” he said.

Kiff credited Wright for turning the vineyard from concept to reality on the ground.

“He’s got amazing energy to make things happen,” Kiff said. “I suspect there may be three of him walking around. He’s everywhere!”

Mark Gould, Wright’s vineyard manager, said everyone really supported the project. He said he’s been bringing Nichole Spearman, the school’s FFA teacher and coordinator, to the Ken Wright Cellars vineyard to familiarize her with the seasonal changes.

Gould said that this program will be a legacy for the students who got in on the ground floor. “This will be the foundation block for this vineyard,” he said of the plot planted Tuesday.

“This is really a big opportunity for the kids at the school and Oregon,” said Joel Myers.

A professional vineyard manager, he works with Duarte Trees and Vines of Hughson, Calif., which donated all the grapes. “Anything we can do to help young people learn job skills is critical,” he said.

Dick Erath, an Oregon’s wine pioneer, was on hand to watch the action.

“Something any great viticulture area needs is a place to learn,” he said.

He and his wife, Joan, donated $10,000 for the program. Wright said that helped cover some of the associated costs.

School board member Tim Pfeiffer has been a supporter since the Yamhill project was first proposed.

“We had the property,” he said. “The jobs in this area are in the vineyard business. If kids want to stay here, this is a sustainable living-wage job.”

Because Chemeketa is partnering with the district in the program, students can easily enter its highly regarded viticulture program, Pfeiffer said. Once the program is fully developed, a motivated student could be able to start as a freshman, keep attending school for a fifth year, then graduate with an associate’s degree, he said.

Greg Harris of Chemeketa was also on hand for planting day. He said that the school provided the curriculum, which has been modified some for high school, but it’s very similar to its own viticulture program.

“We’ve been connected to the wine industry for 10 to 15 years,” Harris said. “This is another way to help out the labor force.”

Carla Chambers represented Oregon Vineyard Supply and Results Partners, which donated some of the labor and supplies for the project. She said she’s “super excited” to be a part of the project.

She has a vineyard of her own west of Carlton. When she started it 23 years ago, she said, some thought tending a vineyard didn’t really constitute serious farming. They were wrong.

Her own children just saw working there as a way to get gas money while they were growing up. But they returned from college with a different perspective, she said.

“The next generation is now getting jobs in the industry,” Chambers said. “We’re here to stay.”

She has grandchildren in the school district now, and wants them to learn.

“I think it’s going to be great for our students,” she said. “I hope more school districts around the state pick this up.”

“We’re interested in developing programs that create opportunity for kids to stay where they’re raised,” said Superintendent Charan Cline. He anticipates the program will be self-supporting, as the grapes produced will be sold to local wineries.

“We have seven acres,” Cline said. “The idea is to plant one acre per year.”

That will give those involved early on a chance to see the various stages of development, he said. In the meantime, the remaining land has been leased for grass seed growing.

Cline is pleased with the way the local growers have come together to provide seed money, offer other kinds of support and share their knowledge. “The ultimate goal is to give kids that head start to the future, so they know where to go and how to get there,” he said.

Kayla Cooper, one of the students involved in the project, credited Spearman for getting her interested. She said it piqued her involved when they took a trip to Wright’s winery.

Already, Spearman said, the first-year program has 35 students.



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