Viticulture students bring experience back to TC

NMC viticulture students Ethan Baker, left, and Kurtis Berry, center, with program coordinator Brian Hatchett.

TRAVERSE CITY — Northwest Michigan College students Kurtis Berry and Ethan Baker are hoping to add national and international insight to the local wine industry.

Berry and Baker completed NMC’s two-year viticulture program, which requires internship experience. The two already had worked in local vineyards and wineries — Berry at Brys Estate in Traverse City and Baker at 45 North in Lake Leelanau — and sought experience elsewhere.

“For the right student with enough experience in Michigan’s wine industry, the knowledge and experience that they can gain in other wine-growing regions will only benefit this area,” said Brian Matchett, regional program coordinator at NMC’s Institute of Agricultural Technology.

Berry spent his summer in Marche, Italy, where he interned for Vignamato winery and vineyard.

“The wine industry has such a long history within the world, so I wanted to get the cultural aspect of working in another country to bring back here,” he said.

Baker wanted experience in a larger-scale wine industry. This landed him at Winemakers, LLC, a vineyard management company in Yakima, Washington.

The company manages about 1,200 acres of vineyards, equivalent to almost half the wine grape acreage in Michigan, Matchett said.

“I did a lot more there than I would have been able to do here,” said Baker, who estimated he worked 50 hours a week while in Yakima.

Baker found his niche looking at harvest yields and analyzing crops during his internship, a technique that he hopes to apply locally.

Berry plans to use the practices and growing techniques he learned in Italy, but he will focus his career toward the wine-making side of the industry.

“The knowledge they bring back is going to provide some new blood and new energy in the industry that’s going to change the way we grow grapes and make wine,” Matchett said.

Berry and Baker will both be graduating the viticulture program in February.

The program, added in 2010, is one of four plant science certificate options offered at the college by Michigan State University. Other options include agricultural operations, fruit and vegetable crop management, and landscape management.

Berry has accepted a position as an assistant winemaker at Aurora Cellars in Lake Leelanau and Baker hopes to pursue a local career in vineyard management.

“People downstate and around the country are looking at our area as a big wine attraction,” Berry said. “I think it’s really going to grow into something awesome.”