The University of Kentucky will offer four new courses in the coming year with hopes of providing more skilled workers for the state's growing wine industry.
A wine appreciation course offered by the College of Agriculture this fall will introduce students to the history, science and pleasure of wine. The class, restricted to students who are 21 and older, is the first on campus to include wine tasting.
"I've been overwhelmed with the interest that students have expressed," said professor Michael Barrett, who will teach the class.
He wants students to finish the course as educated consumers, understanding the qualities and chemistry of various wines. Classroom activities will include a field trip to a vineyard and winery, and exercises to develop the students' noses and palates.
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Another wine-related course being offered in the fall has drawn student interest but takes a different approach.
Viticulture, Wine and Brewing Science will explore the science behind wine and beer, familiarizing students with career opportunities in the industry. There will be no wine or beer tasting.
"This isn't promoting alcohol consumption," said professor Seth DeBolt, who will teach the course. "This is purely about science and careers."
Wine and beer are a huge international business, DeBolt said, but there are no courses offered at UK. He will cover topics from grapevine physiology to the economics of the beer industry.
"There is demand in the industry for graduates and no courses," DeBolt said.
UK oenologist Tom Cottrell said Kentucky produces roughly 150,000 cases of wine a year, generating about $15 million in annual revenue.
A push for more trained professionals in winemaking has helped inspire two other courses that explore the process.
Beginning in spring 2014, grape and wine researcher Jeff Wheeler will teach an introductory course to viticulture, the study of the production of grapes. Students will study grapevine anatomy and physiology, vineyard design and economics.
A wine production course the following fall will examine oenology, or the science of wine and winemaking. Students will have the opportunity to work at the UK Horticulture Research Farm, where there are five acres of grapes.
"There has been a lot of interest from students to work in the vineyard," said Patsy Wilson, a UK viticulture specialist.
Wilson consults with growers and said they often ask her for experienced students to help in the vineyards.
Kentucky has 68 wineries and 140 to 160 wine and grape growers, she said.
Although the state is the home of bourbon, American winemaking actually began in Kentucky. The nation's first commercial vineyard was established in 1798 along the Kentucky River in what is now Jessamine County. By the end of the 19th century, the state was the nation's third-largest producer of grapes and wine.
When prohibition wiped out the industry, farmers moved to tobacco production. It wasn't until 1976, when legislation allowed wineries to operate, that the industry began to come back.
Today, Kentucky has about 560 acres of wine grapes, including 30 to 40 acres added during the past two years, Wilson said.
To support a vibrant wine industry, Wheeler said, the state must increase vineyard production, allowing winemakers to rely mostly on local fruit.
"There is great potential for high-quality wine in Kentucky," Wheeler said.