Umpqua Community College’s Southern Oregon Wine Institute could be made a regional epicenter for the industry to market and promote Southern Oregon wines, while the academic program may need to shift to more non-credit classes and industry certificates.
That was the verdict from people involved with the program, who presented to the board of education during work sessions on Dec. 9.
College officials announced in November that they would be taking a closer look at both the wine institute and the engineering and computer science programs, because of chronic under-enrollment. At the time, Thatcher also announced additional programs are under review, but she did not wish to reveal which programs those were.
The board did not take any action regarding any of the programs during the regular meeting on Dec. 9, following the work session.
By March 2021, the advisory committee will draft a teach-out plan for students currently working toward a degree or certificate, seek input from industry leaders on community education classes and create a business plan for the enterprise components of the Southern Oregon Wine Institute.
Robin VanWinkle, dean of community education and partnerships, asked the board to consider the interest and involvement of the UCC Foundation in any enterprise activities for the wine institute.
Andy Swan, director of the Southern Oregon Wine Institute, has been involved with the program since 2015. He started as an instructor, and in 2017, was made the director.
In the fall of 2020, there were 12 students enrolled in programs of which 10 were looking to get a degree or certificate.
Enrollment for the academic program is paused, which means students can no longer declare viticulture or enology as their major. Student can continue to enroll in classes, but are not guaranteed to obtain a degree.
Enrollment for the programs had been declining for several years, according to Danielle Haskett, assistant vice president of academic services. Haskett said the number of students dropped from 37 to 31 between 2017 and 2019. The majority of classes from the wine institute had less than 10 students enrolled.
However, the number of degrees, certificates and transfer students increased from a total of four in 2017 to 11 in 2019. The college was also able to retain more students between year one and year two each year.
“One thing you have to understand is that when I came on board in 2015, we did have a person working in our office that was very good at recruiting and her position sunsetted,” Swan said, adding that the position was paid for through a grant and the person was not kept on staff despite his pleas. “I know there’s been recruiting on the campus, but nothing that we’re doing directly,” Swan said. “It’s had a dramatic effect.”
One of the most expensive things on the budget has been the development of a 3-acre vineyard, which started in 2017 but will not see fruit until 2022. The college also has another 2-acre vineyard, which is producing fruit.
The college is also able to produce wines through grape donations.
Wine is aging in cellars at the college, which could be sold for more than $100,000 at wholesale, according to Swan.
There have been no wine sales since spring 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted not only the enrollment for both programs, but also the tasting room operations, events and wine sales.
Wildfires impacted grape harvests at wineries throughout Southern Oregon.
“There had been really no events, you know we’re not renting out the space for events and that that is a big area for wine sales,” VanWinkle said. “And then additionally the wildfires that occurred in the early fall in terms of the industry that affected wine production as well as COVID.”
When the wine institute started at the college, the enterprise side of the program was run by the UCC Foundation. Board member Doris Lathrop said she thinks it’s a wise decision that there are conversations of bringing the institute back to the foundation.
During listening sessions this summer, college administrators learned that the director wears too many hats, local businesses hire students and find value in their training, geographic isolation is a barrier to enrollment, collaboration with other programs would be valuable and the enterprise operations at the college are valued and must grow.
Swan receives compensation from the college for his work as the program administrator, but he is not compensated for the time spent running on the incubator program, the wine sales and vineyard management.
“In 2018, when we did the largest crush we have ever done — over 111 tons of fruit — I spent most nights for a two-month period sleeping in my office, because I was working around the clock for several months,” Swan said. “I’ve been working hard to try to keep these expense numbers down, but it’s not something that’s sustainable I can’t continue to try to do it alone.”