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WKU cultivating viticulture program with addition of third vineyard

A third vineyard is being added at the WKU Farm. From left, WKU viticulture technician Nathan Howell, senior Camille Hayden and graduate student Kellee Montgomery planted grape vines on June 7. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)

With the planting of a third vineyard, WKU’s Agriculture Department is continuing to cultivate and nurture its new viticulture program.

“We feel there is an opportunity to educate students about a crop they could grow or a field they could pursue as a career,” said Dr. Todd Willian, agriculture professor.

The first two vineyards near the Elrod Road entrance to the WKU Farm were established in 2008 and 2009. One vineyard is used for education in WKU’s viticulture courses and for community workshops and tours while the second vineyard is used for research.

The third vineyard will be used for wine production when the 540 vines on the one-acre site begin producing grapes in three to four years, according to Nathan Howell, viticulture technician.

Agriculture professor Todd Willian (center) talks with viticulture technician Nathan Howell (right) while graduate student Kellee Montgomery plants a grape vine June 7 at the WKU Farm. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)

“This plot is our first step in the wine-making grape process,” Howell said. “The long-term goal at the university is to have core classes and courses around wine production, marketing, the whole aspect, not just the production side of grapes.”

Kentucky has a long history of grape production and ranked third in the nation in wine production before Prohibition, Dr. Willian said. Grape production began to rebound in the late 1990s with Kentucky expanding from 50 acres to about 600 acres today, he said.

The vineyards also are used for WKU’s Introduction to Viticulture and Advanced Viticulture courses.

Students Camille Hayden and Kellee Montgomery are working at the vineyard this summer and were hooked on viticulture after taking the introductory course.

“I was animal science major and took the Intro to Viticulture class last spring and it sparked my interest so I’ve been working out here ever since,” said Montgomery, a graduate student from Franklin.

Hayden, a senior from Owensboro, is working 20 hours a week at the vineyard this summer, plans to take the Advanced Viticulture course this fall and may pursue a career in viticulture.

In the course, students receive hands-on training in day-to-day management of vineyard from planting, pruning, vine maintenance, trellis construction, grape production and harvesting. Several varieties of grapes are grown in the educational vineyard while the wine production vineyard will have the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah and Tannat.

The viticulture program is an interdisciplinary effort and isn’t limited to agriculture students, Dr. Willian said. “We have lots of avenues to growth – agriculture, geography, history, art, chemistry, microbiology,” he said. “We hope to cultivate that.”

Having the educational vineyard for hands-on training and workshops is essential not only for WKU students but for farmers and homeowners wanting to establish their own vineyards, Dr. Willian said.

Howell wants the vineyard to become a place where community members or those interested in grape production can visit, participate in workshops and learn more about viticulture.

“It’s going to be a community effort,” Howell said. “We want to bring the community onto the WKU Farm. We want to invite the community out here. If they can come out to the farm and get a hands-on experiences, that’s what we’re all about.”

More: Additional photos are available on the WKU Photo Blog.

 

Contact: Todd Willian or Nathan Howell, (270) 745-3151.

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