Student story: A new perspective on wine

By Lenore Friend

A New York college’s winemaking program lures a woman back to college.

Kerry Mallon first learned that Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) taught vineyard management and winemaking in the Wine Spectator, a magazine that explores wine and wine culture.

Mallon has worked in many fields over the years, most recently in delivery with UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, as well as passenger transportation. She was fascinated by the Finger Lakes region’s iconic industry, but going back to school would be a big step.

An inquiry led her to Gina Lee, assistant coordinator of the viticulture and wine technology program. They discussed the one-year certificate, perfect for older adults who want to learn the skills but do not need the general education courses required for a full degree.

“As an older, returning student, I was somewhat hesitant about doing it from two perspectives. One, am I out of practice at this level of science? Two, will the industry hire someone like me?” Mallon said. “Now, I would tell anyone to do it, and if you think you’re too old, you’re not. I had to dig deep into the recesses of my brain to pull out some old science and math knowledge to get through, but so far so good.”

While Covid-19 has meant a fair amount of online work, she has learned to prune vines in a vineyard and to measure juice sugar and wine alcohol content in the college’s enology lab.

“As to being hired, I’m working on an internship, and I am very hopeful,” she continued. “From what I’ve seen touring the Finger Lakes wineries and visiting tasting rooms, there are folks of all ages involved at all levels. So, I am greatly encouraged in that regard.”

FLCC launched its viticulture and wine technology degree program in fall 2009 in response to interest among local winemakers for a formal training program. FLCC partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Finger Lakes Grape Program and Anthony Road Wine Company in 2012 to plant a 2-acre teaching and demonstration vineyard where students learn hands on vineyard practices and harvest grapes for winemaking. In 2015, the college opened the FLCC Viticulture and Wine Center at the Cornell Agriculture and Technology Park in Geneva. The facility has an enology lab, teaching winery, vineyard and aging rooms to provide students with the same equipment and environment they will experience in the industry.

The classes are always a mix of traditional students right out of high school and older students like Mallon. The older students do not always get the degree, and often take only the relevant classes. The new certificate program ensures they have a credential that represents a cohesive educational program employers recognize.

The college is also developing an online version of the certificate that would compress hands-on elements into a two-week residency, making it more accessible to those who do not have time in their schedule for hands-on classes through the year.

Mallon said her three months in the program have already changed the way she views winemaking.

“You will not look at wine in the same way again. Despite all the precise science, it really is a magical process,” she said. “Even if you were to simply be curious about how it all works, it’s worth looking into taking the certificate program. It isn’t the same commitment as the associate degree, and you could do it part-time or with a fast-track approach, depending on your goals.”

This story originally appeared here.

Lenore Friend

is director of public relations and community affairs at Finger Lakes Community College in New York.