A culture of viticulture:

University students see fruits of their labor

By Alexandria Randolph
Photos by Robbyn Dodd

Texas Tech University in Fredericksburg’s full-on micro winery allows students to experience the entire winemaking process from learning to grow grapes, to harvesting the grapes then making wine. The small-scale campus vineyard and winery gives students a real life connection to the blossoming regional wine industry and will be adding wine and culinary appreciation to the educational mix with the addition of the Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts.

This type of education gives students hands-on experience that translates into the workforce in the Texas Hill Country.

“A lot of graduates from our programs have gone on to start new vineyards and wineries in Texas,” says Ed Hellman, professor of viticulture in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at TTU-Fredericksburg.

Within the TTU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences are two programs, one an accredited undergraduate degree concentration and another a continuing education certificate. The certificate programs deal with viticulture and enology, he says.

The vineyard

A lot of graduates from our programs have gone on to start new vineyards and wineries in Texas.
Ed Hellman

In 2012, a vineyard was established on the TTU campus in Fredericksburg. It proved to be a complementary asset to both the viticulture and enology programs.

The teaching vineyard is a one-acre plot producing three varieties “which is used for teaching purposes for the viticulture side of the program,” says Maureen Qualia, TTU instructor and fourth generation wine maker.

Qualia teaches the winemaking certification program, and Kirk Williams teaches the grape growing courses.

“What we’ve seen in Texas in the past several years is (grape producers) shifting away from varieties that are somewhat better adapted to cooler climates than Texas, to varieties that are much better adapted to hotter climates,” Hellman says.

Roussanne and marsanne, white wines from the Rhône region of France, and aglianico, a red from southern Italy are the three varieties of grape grown on campus and used by students in wine production lab courses.

This means Texas wine connoisseurs will see more wines with grape varieties common to southern regions of Spain, Italy and France, Hellman says.

“There’s been tremendous expansion in the Texas wine industry in the past 15 years, especially the last ten years,” Hellman says. “There are lots of new people coming into the industry and many are expanding their acreage, considering other varieties and looking to match the varieties to our climate a little better. Throughout Texas there has been a shift towards planting varieties originally grown in warmer climates in Europe.”

The three varietals at the campus also grow better on three different trellis systems, which is another learning opportunity for students.

“There are three different ways grape varieties are trained and grown, so the students get to see how that affects fruit quality,” Qualia says. “They also have rotational rows, so (vines) can take anywhere from three to four years to produce a fruit crop and in each one of those years there are different things that go on. We can teach the students what to do in the first, second and third year of planting. It’s a great learning experience for the students.”

The first crop of grapes inspired TTU faculty to start developing the micro-teaching winery on campus, according to Qualia.

The winery

Grapes from the vineyard are used at the teaching winery for students learning the production side of the business or enology.

“What we have now is the teaching winery (where) the students can learn everything on a smaller scale. They can learn everything they need to know, but at the same scale of equipment size of even a small commercial winery,” Hellman says.

The teaching winery is mainly used in the wine making certificate program, “which is continued education targeted towards entrepreneurs and employees of wineries,” Hellman says. “Local wineries will send some of their employees to our program for individual classes to brush up on things or to expand their knowledge in certain areas.”

Students are also exposed to experimental fermentation, “so they can see how different choices in production can affect the final style of wine,” Qualia says.

“Some students have the opportunity to see fruit they raised become a finished product.

“When you harvest the fruit and take it all the way through to a finished wine, there is definitely ownership in that,” Qualia says.

New programs

After establishing the undergraduate viticulture and enology degree program in 2010, the university has recently developed another concentration option for undergraduate students.

“There’s a set of a half dozen courses or so that are more focused on a particular topic, and so we’ve got a new undergraduate degree concentration called local food and wine productions systems. It’s kind of a companion to the viticulture and enology concentration that are focused on just grapes and wine,” Hellman says. “So, local food and wine encompasses more of the farm to table type movement that is very prevalent here in the Hill Country and Fredericksburg in particular.”

The new concentration will be available for students this fall.

Administration also hopes to expand the winery equipment in the near future.

“The eventual goal is to have a small scale commercial winery so we can actually have the size of equipment that people going into the industry would work with,” Qualia says.

“We might expand the vineyard a little bit as well, but that’s been ongoing for a number of years,” Hellman says.

Soon, an undeniable partnership with a local wine and culinary organization may provide for the addition of a larger winery in Fredericksburg.

“We’re partnering with the Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts, that plans to build a facility at the Hill Country University Center,” Hellman says.

The plan between TTU and TCWCA is to share space in a new Fredericksburg facility that would be devoted to wine, culinary arts, and their education.

“They’ve carved out and dedicated a space for us in their plans for offices, a classroom, a lab, and a small commercial scale teaching winery,” Hellman says. “It’s an obvious partnership; local wine and culinary arts, and we have educational programs in those areas.”

A commercial-scale winery would give students “more real world experience with the equipment and its processes,” he adds.

The construction of this new facility is in its fundraising stages and does not yet have a set completion date.