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Students learn art of winemaking with apprenticeship
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Students can learn the art of winemaking right here in Sevier County thanks to a new apprenticeship program.

Mountain Valley Vineyards and Hillside Winery are part of an apprenticeship program with Pellissippi State Community College and the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), which is based in Missouri.

The goal is to hire, train and retain employees for wine production and vineyard work in East Tennessee.

“We are the first wineries in East Tennessee to take on apprentices. We hope to have a lot. We are starting with two,” said Jonathan Ball, Rocky Top Wine Trail Chief Operating Officer.

“Our goal is to work up to a dozen and maintain that.”

It’s a project that has been years in the making, as previously there was no formal training in winemaking in the state.

“We have been working on this seven years,” Ball said. “There were no schools teaching it. There was no formal education. You learned it as you went.”

Mountain Valley president Don Collier saw the need early on in the vineyards themselves as well as the winemaking process at his facilities. He has been trying to get an education program ever since.

“If it works, our goal is to help educate the workforce for the state. We are looking at all of Tennessee, not just us,” Ball said.

Students take courses and learn the basics of winemaking, wines around the world, cold hardiness — what varieties live best in different climates and much more. They also are partnered with a winery or vineyard to learn the craft.

Winemaking is a complex thing, and it takes practice to learn to make quality wine.

“To make a good quality wine you need to know what you’re doing. We are having them actually go work with a journeyman and learn all the points of, hey if something goes wrong what do you do. It is very hands on,” Ball said.

The two apprentices selected are Jacob Lindsey, who is at Hillside Winery, and Nick Gibson, who is at Mountain Valley.

Both are already hard at work learning the craft, from the winemaking itself to bottling.

Lindsey was already at Hillside when management approached him about the opportunity.

“This is what I want to do with the rest of my life. I jumped on the opportunity,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey had worked in the cider industry before coming to Hillside, where he feels right at home.

“It is so much fun. I just enjoy — at the end of the day I like seeing what I made. You basically get to play around with making different types of wines,” Lindsey said.

“Everyone I work with is fantastic.”

Gibson said he has jumped right in learning the craft.

“It has been rolling along pretty quick. The opportunity to actually understand the science of it more so (appeals to him),” Gibson said. “The job itself is fun.”

Gibson said he looks forward to the opportunity to make his own blends someday.

NC man allegedly recorded children at Sevier County water park
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SEVIERVILLE — A North Carolina man charged in a child pornography investigation allegedly told investigators he had recorded young girls at a water park in Sevier County.

The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina has charged Christopher Earnest Stefan, 45, of Haw River, with possession of cocaine, possession of weapons of mass destruction, three counts of manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, and six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

They started an investigation Feb. 4 after a person online offered to disseminate child pornography through a file-sharing app.

They eventually tracked that offer to Stefan, according to information released by the sheriff’s office.

When they executed a search warrant at his home, they found child pornography as well as homemade gun suppressors, weapons, and drugs.

After his arrest, Stefan admitted to recording footage of children at a water park in Sevier County as well as at a splash pad in Alamance County.

He was being held Wednesday at the Alamance County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bond.

Alamance County investigators are still collecting and analyzing evidence from the search, and asked that anyone with information on the case call their office at 366-570-6300.

Ohio woman dies in wreck on Spur
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NATIONAL PARK — An Ohio woman died Monday after a single-car wreck on the Spur.

Elizabeth Marie Parker, 19, of Centerville, Ohio, was riding in a 2012 Honda sedan that was traveling south on the Spur when it went off the right side of the road and struck an embankment at about 11:45 pm. Monday, according to the National Park Service.

Parker died as a result of injuries sustained in the wreck.

The driver and a passenger were airlifted to UT Medical Center.

The Park Service did not release their identities Wednesday.

Park rangers, Gatlinburg Police and Fire departments, and Sevier County EMS responded to the accident.

Park rangers are investigating the wreck, and did not release additional information on it Wednesday.

PF Commission reviews proposed 21-22 budget
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PIGEON FORGE — City Commission will consider a budget next Monday that calls for a 6% increase in revenues and possible raises for employees.

Commissioners reviewed the proposed budget in a work session that lasted much of the day Wednesday.

They need to approve the budget on two separate occasions, and plan to do so at the two regular meetings this month.

Commissioners will have several options to consider for city employee wages after they reviewed a compensation study by consultant Steven Thompson.

The study reviewed all 466 positions in the city. Thompson said the city needed to bump pay for several positions to to match other governments in the region.

The base proposal that is included in the proposed budget called for a 3% increase in city wages across the board, as well as additional adjustments that would bring wages to match the regional average found in the study.

Like Sevier County and many area cities, they looked in particular at pay for police officers.

“Attracting and retaining police officers is just a huge challenge,” Thompson said.

The estimated 6% increase in revenues is based on a comparison with the 2020-21 budget, which was built around projections made while most Pigeon Forge businesses were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioners also broached the subject of a long-term plan for the municipal complex.

They will soon need a new fire hall, and the police department is overcrowded so one of the options they’re considering is a public safety building that could house both.

It could free up more space on the campus, as they’re also considering what to do at city hall.

This year’s budget features funding for an architectural and engineering study for the complex.

While commissioners said they aren’t looking to increase the property tax rate, it isn’t yet completely clear what the certified tax rate will be.

Property owners are still appealing new values after the latest reappraisals countywide, including in the city.

Property values are expected to increase, but state law requires local governments to approve a certified rate, which would be a lower rate that would bring in the same amount of tax revenue to the city as the previous year, or take the proper steps to raise their rate.

If the city does not approve a certified rate, the commission would need to hold hearings and follow the same process it uses for a property tax increase.

At Wednesday’s workshop, commissioners said the new certified rate might not be clear when they vote on the budget and tax rates for the first time Monday.

Contact Jeff at jfarrell@themountainpress.com or Twitter at @jeffmtnpress.