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.