WINCHESTER — Dwayne Bershaw used a forklift to dump a large crate of glistening purple grapes onto a vibrating metal table where waiting Southern Oregon Wine Institute students sorted out leaves and other debris from the crop.
Bershaw, associate director of the wine institute, helped students Friday as they processed about a ton of syrah wine grapes from a Roseburg vineyard. The grapes will be the first made into wine in the program’s new home, the Lang Center at Umpqua Community College.
The building, which opened in February, is now outfitted with commercial winemaking equipment for student use, paid for with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bershaw said. Another $1.25 million grant from the Economic Development Administration will help buy enough equipment for the institute to rent out to fledgling Umpqua Valley wineries, he said.
“This is what our program is all about, to have people come in and use the equipment,” he said.
Bershaw, who was hired as associate director two years ago, said he was thrilled to start making wine in the new building. UCC received $4.25 million in federal stimulus bonds to pay the $6.8 million construction cost. The rest of the funding came from donations from Douglas County individuals, businesses and organizations.
“It’s an exciting day for us,” Bershaw said. “When I got hired, the building was still in the plans. To be able to have the students making wine, it’s a great day. It’s a dream come true.”
The wine institute bought the syrah grapes from Cooper Ridge Vineyard on Old Garden Valley Road west of Roseburg, which is owned by a student, Lesa Ray of Roseburg.
Ray, 52, who started the vineyard five years ago with her husband, Robin, is in her second year of earning a two-year viticulture and enology degree from UCC.
“It was really to gain knowledge,” she said. “We really believe this area is going to expand in grape growing and winemaking.”
Ray and her husband recently bottled their first tempranillo and pinot noir wine from grapes grown on their 12-acre vineyard, and she’s excited to see how wine from this year’s harvest turns out.
“All of the crop this year has been fabulous, the growing season has been phenomenal,” she said. “There was plenty of time for the fruit to get ripe.”
After the grapes from Ray’s vineyard were dropped on the vibrating sorting table behind the Lang Center, they were carried up a conveyer belt into a machine that shook off the stems. Before they are crushed into wine, the grapes will be fermented with yeast to remove sugar.
It will likely be about two years before the grapes processed Friday become wine, Bershaw said. In three weeks, the fermented grapes will be crushed into liquid, he said.
The syrah will be among several varieties of wine students will produce with grapes from this year’s harvest, Bershaw said.
Wine institute student Dave Gresser of Glide said he enjoyed getting the hands-on experience.
“This is the first time I’ve seen the process,” said Gresser, 47. “To see the way a commercial winery is set up is a lot different from making your own wine at home.”
Ray’s husband, Robin, said it’s exciting that the wine institute will make winemaking equipment available to Umpqua Valley wineries.
“This will be great for a lot of the small vineyards that want to make wine,” he said. “They can make their wine here and not have the expense of the equipment.”
• You can reach reporter Inka Bajandas at 541-957-4202 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.