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The grant, a collaboration between two community colleges, will be used to enhance existing curriculum and to establish two training facilities—one for wine and cider, the other for beer and liquor.
For years, students at Piedmont Virginia Community College have been able to explore winemaking and beer-brewing through both a viticulture and enology program and a craft- brewing curriculum. But hands-on experience for those students has been largely limited to pitching in at breweries and wineries in the region.
“There, if the students do something wrong, it ruins the product. They’re allowed to watch, but not really experience how to make beer or how to make wine in a production mode, which is completely different than making wine or beer in your kitchen,” Valerie Palamountain, PVCC’s dean of workforce services, told Route Fifty in an interview. “We wanted to give them the experience of how to actually make this using the right kind of production-style equipment, and looking at it from the standpoint of, ‘This will be a business,’ not, ‘I think I’ll just brew some beer in my kitchen sink for my friends.’”
The program will take that step next year, courtesy of a $249,472 grant from the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board, a state program that identifies targeted industries for growth in nine regions of the state and then helps develop economic development projects that require collaboration between local governments and businesses.
The “Crafting Higher-Paying Jobs and Adult Beverage Exports” grant, a collaboration between PVCC and Germanna Community College, will be used to enhance the existing curriculum and to establish two training facilities for students—one for wine and cider, the other for beer and liquor.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced the grant Wednesday, saying in a statement that the proposed project would “align with the needs of these communities and the employers who are ready to hire talented and trained workers.”
Palamountain applied for funding after noting the continued growth of the craft beverage industry in Virginia but a lack of comprehensive, hands-on training for students. The two facilities, expected to open sometime next year, will most likely be open to the public, but Virginia laws probably will not allow the products to be available for sale.
The goal of the program is to allow students to learn to make their beverage of choice, from growing the fruit or wheat to bottling the liquid. The grant program hopes to stimulate economic development in the region. While there’s nothing binding students to the area after they graduate, Palamountain said they believe most are likely to pursue employment nearby.
“The expectation is that the people who are going to get into this will either work for one of the existing employers, or an awful lot of them will end up starting their own businesses,” she said.
Either way, the area is ripe with opportunity. PVCC is located in central Virginia, south of Charlottesville, in the heart of the Monticello Wine Trail and near the Red White and Brew Trail, which includes a large cidery and a distillery.
“The Piedmont Region is home to a vast number of exceptional wineries, craft breweries and distillers,” Virginia Del. R. Steven Landes, a Republican from Weyers Cave, said in a statement. “This project represents a great opportunity to spur growth of the adult beverage industry in the region.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.