Wine institute pops cork on new $6.8 million home

WINCHESTER — Using their senses, Southern Oregon Wine Institute students tried to identify the variety of wine in the glasses in front of them.

Working their way through a cluster of long-stemmed glasses, the students took notes on the aroma, taste and appearance of each wine. After swirling, sniffing and tasting the samples, they reported back a creative array of scents.

Some of the aromas they picked up, such as old milk, rotten banana, cooked cabbage and barnyard, didn't sound particularly appetizing. Others, such as green apple, bubble gum, vanilla, honey, mango, melon and jasmine, might appear on the label of a wine bottle.

"Any guesses?" the wine institute's Associate Director Dwayne Bershaw eagerly asked after writing the students' descriptions of each wine on a white board. Then he pulled the bottle out of its paper bag sheath, exposing the label.

The wine appreciation class was among the first held in the wine institute's new headquarters, the $6.8 million Danny Lang Teaching, Learning and Event Center. Since construction was completed on Umpqua Community College's newest building earlier this year, students learning about growing and making wine are no longer borrowing classroom space from other departments.

"It feels like we have a home now," said SOWI student Amy Ashby, 35, of Roseburg, one of 60 students enrolled in the program.

Fellow student Caleb Krautz, 30, of Medford said it's been nice conducting tastings in a new classroom instead of a smelly chemistry classroom.

"There were aromas from all the chemicals in there," he said. "It would desensitize us to certain smells."

Until now, wine institute students, which include many displaced workers and older nontraditional students, took classes online and came in on weekends or in the evenings for lab work in UCC's chemistry classrooms. Students also learned at wineries.

The program offers a one-year certificate and two-year degree in viticulture and enology.

SOWI student Jeff Euchler, 45, of Roseburg, said he's looking forward to taking more classes in the new building.

"It's awesome. I've been waiting for this for a long time," he said. "This way, we get to have face-to-face classes. I'm a big fan of face-to-face." Euchler said he's excited that he will get to help make the wine institute's first batch of wine in the new facility.

SOWI Director Chris Lake recently moved with Bershaw into the building from the wine institute's former headquarters on the far north end of the UCC campus.

"It's fun, fun moving into a new house," he said. "We had to crush grapes in the rain last year. We don't have to do that this year. We'll have a roof over our heads."

Along with housing the wine institute, the center includes a kitchen and tasting room and has been touted by UCC as a project that will benefit Douglas County economically by supporting the region's wine industry. The college received $4.25 million in federal stimulus bonds to pay for the center. The rest of the funding was donated by businesses, Douglas County cities, organizations and community members. Sutherlin attorney Danny Lang, for whom the building is named, donated the first $800,000.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration invested $1.25 million in the wine center to help fledgling wineries. The funding will allow the wine center to rent space and equipment to winemakers who will bring in their own grapes to make wine.

Although she has experience making wine in New Zealand and California, Melonie Pierce, 35, of Umpqua said enrolling in the wine institute is giving her more technical knowledge about the craft. She said she hopes to start a winery on 560 acres in Umpqua.

"I have to learn what I can so I can make it as a winemaker," Pierce said.

It will be nice learning at UCC using the latest in winemaking equipment, she added.

She said it's beneficial the building will offer the opportunity for newer winemakers to rent space to make their product and she expects Douglas County to become a premier wine growing region.

"This area just has so much potential of becoming world famous," Pierce said.

Krautz said before he got a job in the tasting room at RoxyAnn Winery in Medford, he worked in construction. He said the transition meant he had a lot to learn.

"You read the crazy descriptions of wines," Krautz said. "I would taste stuff and not have a clue." Taking classes through SOWI has made it easier to make recommendations to customers, he said.

"I'll pour wines, and they tell me what they like best," Krautz said, "and I can tell them what wines they'd like in the future."

Inka Bajandas is a reporter for the Roseburg News Review.

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