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No whining about this vintage course

The Age, Saturday, 31 May, 2008

Trevor Robbins

Got your heart set on becoming a viticulturist or winemaker? Then be prepared to be thrown into the deep end of the wine business in this intensive three- year Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT) degree program.

It’s the course where you tackle a range of issues including soil and plant nutrition, vineyard and water management, vine and plant physiology, wine microbiology, contemporary issues in winemaking and wine evaluation.

Senior lecturer and head of viticulture and winemaking at NMIT, Helen Waite said the course has a strong emphasis on integrating academic knowledge with industry practice and is highly valued by the wine industry. Most students are adults who prefer to study part-time.

Waite said graduates will take away sound scientific and business principles along with practical skills that will equip them to operate successfully as professionals in a challenging industry.

“They will also have the skills, knowledge and confidence to constructively contribute to debate in the wine industry as issues arise and to provide leadership as the industry evolves,” she said.

Pivotal to the course are compulsory 30-day approved industry experience units in second and third year to experience typical workplace issues and build industry contacts.

“What we try and do is integrate our theory and our practical skills to give the students real experiences, something more than a lecturer standing up talking about it. In many ways its education in creative thinking. While students might enroll with the intention of being winemakers, many will have quite wide careers in the industry.”

NMIT is a key part of the winemaking industry, with its own vineyards, all in different climatic regions at Eden Park, Yarra Glen and Ararat, and wineries at its Epping and Ararat campuses. There are plenty of career choices for graduates such as owning or managing a winery or vineyard, winemaker or technical assistant, laboratory technician or being involved in viticulture education for the wine retail sector. An entry-level salary is about $40,000 to $60,000.

NMIT produces shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, cabernet franc, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling from grapes grown at its vineyards. Made and bottled at Epping, the wines are available at Fairfield, Preston and Epping campuses.

Tim Organ, NMIT’s faculty of earth sciences development manager said the institute is developing a sales and marketing strategy for these wines and will launch its Northern Estates label later this year. Micha Craze, 26, is in his second year of the degree program and has already amassed experience by working at Northern Estates since 2002, mixing his part-time degree studies with winery manager duties at the Epping campus winery.

Craze has been involved in the production of all labels since he started his traineeship at the Eden Park vineyard. He also helped plant NMIT’s Yarra Glen and Ararat vineyards. His involvement in winemaking began in 2002 when he started a certificate III in food processing (wine), coinciding with a traineeship at NMIT vineyards. He now juggles his studies by attending classes two days a week and working at least three days a week in the winery. When vintage time comes around he works 14 hour days during the compulsory break from studies that allow students to acquire valuable industry experience.

“I love what I do; this isn’t work for me. The stuff I learn in theory supports me in the decisions I make in the winery. You definitely need both,” Craze said.

About two-thirds of students are male but Waite hopes more women will do the course.

To enter the course, students need successful completion of year 12 biology, chemistry and mathematics or a TAFE diploma in viticulture/winemaking or industry experience where a candidate can demonstrate ability to undertake degree-level work. The course can also be completed part-time over six years.

Course inquiries on 92691042 or www.nmit.vic.edu.au/highered.

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