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Mercyhurst in high spirits over new viticulture program at North East

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tapping into the rich agricultural heritage and economy of the grape-growing region of North East, Mercyhurst University – The North East Campus is launching a new program in viticulture to prepare students for work in this robust industry.

Citing growth in almost all aspects of the wine industry, industry forecasters say the need for individuals with the specialized knowledge and skills necessary for employment in the industry will continue to grow.

A new business administration concentration in viticulture is slated to launch this fall and will center on the science, production and study of grapes.

The viticulture program will allow the newest Mercyhurst North East learning lab to shine: the recently donated Miller Estate property, valued at over $1 million, which includes five acres of Concord grapes.

“We are thrilled to be launching this new program at Mercyhurst North East,” said Scott McAuley, business administration program director, who will oversee the new viticulture concentration. “The agricultural heritage of the North East area is a huge influence on not only the culture, but also the economy. Mercyhurst North East viticulture students will have unparalleled hands-on opportunities in the vineyards or with local grape processing employers. The location couldn’t be better for someone who wants to work in this robust industry.”

North East is right in the middle of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, the largest growing area of Concord grapes in the world. A total of 30,000 acres of vineyards occupy a 60-mile stretch along Lake Erie from Ohio to New York, reports the Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association. According to the group’s 2007 study, the grapes create an annual economic impact of $340 million through grape growing, juice/wine processing and agri-tourism.

“I see this new program as a great opportunity, especially with the agrarian economy we have in North East,” said Robert Mazza, president and CEO of Mazza Vineyards, who has been in business in North East for more than 40 years. “If we want to sustain and grow the grape-growing culture in this region, we need a talented, well-educated work force.”

The viticulture program will prepare students for jobs at longstanding area grape processing facilities, wineries and vineyards as well as give budding entrepreneurs the tools they need to start their own business.

Viticulture students will learn chemistry and plant biology and apply those skills in the vineyards, from planting, trimming and tying the vines to harvesting the fruit on a grape picker. Area winemaking professional Bob Green, who has been an instructor with the Mercyhurst North East Culinary and Wine Institute since 1995, will lead the students through new vineyard management coursework as well as existing winemaking courses offered through the culinary arts degree.

As a concentration under the existing business administration associate degree program, viticulture students will also receive the management, economics and marketing courses they need to understand the business side of the industry.

For more information about the new viticulture concentration at Mercyhurst North East, contact the admissions office at 814-725-6144.