Come for the wine, but stay for the education

You have been cordially invited to a learning event

The Northwest Viticulture Center in the Eola hills in West Salem is a largely unknown entity of Chemeketa.

The rich history and beautiful location make the campus a singularly inspirational place for a student to earn an education.

For the staff and faculty of the Eola campus, that beauty and the atmosphere that comes with it helps to create a learning environment that feels relaxed and perfectly connected to the work that is done there.

Michael Adams, a wine business instructor for the college, has no difficulty in finding an excuse to come to work each day.

“The other day,” Adams says, “I was walking by a classroom where a winemaking instructor was preparing for a class; he had Bunsen burners and glass tubes all around him. It must have been an hour or so before any students were expected to arrive, and he was just by himself, doing his thing with wine chemistry.

“It was one of the nicer days we had had in a while, so the backdoor was opened up to the vineyard just beyond, and this gorgeous jazz was playing throughout the sound system.

“As I walked by and saw all this, I thought, ‘You know, if any prospective student could be standing here, looking at this scene, just taking it all in, they would sign-up on the spot’ – it was so evocative and inviting.”

Adams has taught courses in marketing at California State University Monterey Bay, and the Capstone Course in Wine Business at the University of Adelaide Australia. He has also managed a workshop program of courses in marketing, business planning, hospitality, and outsourcing for the Small Business Development Center, where he consulted to over 50 clients, including growers and wineries.

His international experience includes investment banking – Canada and the UK; small business advisor – Peace Corps in Nicaragua; high-tech global solutions marketing management – DEC/Compaq/HP – Boston, Geneva, Brussels, Beijing; and managing director of an international wine export & distribution company – Australia.

And although he’s new to the viticulture center, Adams says the Eola campus is an outstanding place for a person to need to travel to each day.

“And then you learn how to make wine on top of it. Why not?” he says.

Chemeketa – Eola

Originally a county park, the turn-off to the Eola campus is easily missed.

No buildings can be seen from Doaks Ferry Road NW, the main thoroughfare that passes right by the campus. The area surrounding the entrance is densely wooded.

Only a small blue sign indicates that anything exists further up the hill: Chemeketa – Eola.

The driveway to the campus does a splendid job of preparing visitors for the beauty awaiting them at the top of the hill.

The trees lining the path create a natural canopy over the drive, with flecks of light peeking through intermittently. A few houses dot the sloping hillside along the drive as well.

At the crest of the hill, the Northwest Viticulture Center comes into full view. The campus is small; three buildings make up its entirety.

The main event building on campus, imaginatively called Bldg. 1, is the place where conferences and party events take place. At its entrance are a set of large glass double-doors, surrounded by glass windows that stretch roughly 25 feet high.

The building houses several conference rooms, offices, classrooms, a winery, a wine cellar, a tasting room – yes, wine is actually served here – and a kitchen for catering purposes.

An events coordinator from Northwest Innovations, another arm of the college, also keeps an office here, where a wide variety of public, private, and college events are scheduled.

Johnny Mack, the executive dean of the career and technical education programs for the college, says, “Different corporations, businesses, and state agencies will actually rent the facility and hold meetings or workshops, and Northwest Innovations will cater the food.”

The reason why such a wide variety of groups take advantage of this locale, Mack says, is easy to determine: “It’s quiet, and the view is incredible.”

The land once was plotted for the original state capitol, he says. But because the ground was found to be too unstable, it ended up at its current location in Salem.

Later, the area became a known hang-out for drug abusers and, among other items of interest, nudists.

After the college bought about 75 acres along the Eola hills, it authorized clearing the timber (and the nudists) and in 2002 began building the vineyard.

The campus now boasts a 10-acre vineyard of grapes, with plenty of room to grow more.

The patio on the backside of Bldg. 1 overlooks those 10 acres, as well as the Willamette River and the grassy Willamette Valley below.

A popular place to book weddings, the view from Bldg. 1 truly is readily described as incredible.

Bldg. 2 is essentially the enology classroom and lab. This building, built with the financial assistance of the Erath Family Foundation (Dick Erath is a well-known Oregon wine maker) keeps offices for the faculty as well as an association called Low Input & Viticulture Inc.

According to its website,, LIVE is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that provides education and independent third-party certification of vineyards and wineries using international standards of sustainable viticulture and enology practices in wine-grape and wine production.

This group is not directly affiliated with the college.

Bldg. 3, if it can even be called a building, is actually more of a shed. Its primary purpose is to house the tractor and tools that service the grounds.

Even though it is a small campus, staff, faculty, and students alike agree that the education that is provided through the Viticulture Center is immeasurable.

With instruction from an incredible team of highly knowledgeable and experienced faculty, the three available programs bring a fully rounded and completely immersive experience for any student who wants to know all there is to know about the wine business.

“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” – Theme song from Cheers

Jim Fischer, a student at the Eola campus, says, “I really don’t believe that there are too many examples, not only in Oregon or Chemeketa – possibly not even the world – where you can actually get this level of education from people who are truly at the top of their field, administering courses here.

“It’s pretty remarkable.”

Al MacDonald, a viticulture management instructor, has a history of growing wine grapes in the Willamette Valley since 1982. He has also served the industry as Chair of the Oregon Wine Advisory Board and the Oregon Winegrowers Association, and as president of LIVE.

He believes that because students are working with a fully functioning winery and vineyard, the real world application of the education provided is not something to be taken complacently.

The training provided at Eola, he says, is training of the same quality that you’d receive from any other winery or vineyard in Oregon.

For prospective students, MacDonald says, “We would encourage people that have a passion for the wine industry.

“What happens in the vineyard is agriculture. So if they have an interest in agriculture, that would be a reason to come out here and explore that phase. If they had an interest in chemistry, winemaking would

be the place for them. And we also have the wine marketing program; so if they wanted to sell wine, we have that phase of it, too.”

For individuals who enroll at Eola, the opportunity exists to receive the full package in wine economy education.

At Eola, MacDonald says, “We take it from the grape, to the wine, to the sales.”

Barney Watson, a winemaking instructor, says, “The program is designed is mesh with our growing wine industry.”

Watson, who recently announced his upcoming retirement, has been involved with the wine industry for 30-plus years and was on the faculty at Oregon State University for 28 years in food science, working in research, teaching, and extension.

One of the special things about Eola, he says, is that “it’s a dedicated teaching program. But, on top of that, it’s a hands-on technical program. The vineyard that’s planted out there is a commercial vineyard.

“We use the grapes from that for teaching winery, which is a commercial bonded, Oregon winery – so the whole process is hands-on … a year in the vineyard or year in the winery, with back-up classes all built into it.”

Faculty members agree that the possibility for an individual to succeed in the wine industry increases with an education in these three fields of study.

“As many as 25 percent of our students get two degrees,” Watson says. “Initially, we didn’t have wine marketing. [Students] would come in and they’d take vineyard management, then they’d finish off the winemaking. … And now, many of the people doing wine marketing are also doing winemaking.

“It just opens up a lot more doors for people.”

Watson gets visibly excited when discussing these programs. His love for his work shows through his contribution to the education of others who feel the same respect for wine that he does.

“This is a technical-professional degree program, and it’s meant to place people into positions within the Oregon wine industry over a whole wide facet of different kinds of jobs,” he says. “It’s a very exciting place; it’s fun.”

Along with the faculty, influence from the Industry Advisory Committee manipulates the curriculum in such a way that only the best, most pertinent information is given to the students – ensuring that quality education.

“I don’t know of any of our students who have gone through the whole program that haven’t gone out and been able to find a job in the wine world,” Watson says.

Jack: “Man! That’s tasty!”

Miles: “That’s 100 percent pinot noir. Single vineyard. They don’t even make it any more.”

Jack: “Pinot noir?”

Miles: “Mmm-hmm.”

Jack: “Then how come it’s white?”

Miles [laughs]: “Don’t ask questions like that up in wine country. They’ll think you’re some kind of dumb****, OK?”

– Sideways (2004)

Northwest Oregon offers the perfect climate to grow the kinds of grapes needed for delicious pinot noir. This is evidenced by the large number of Oregon-based pinot noir distributers throughout the region.

Jessica Cortell, a vineyard management instructor, sees the international success and renown of Oregon’s pinot noirs as indirect support of the wine education offered at places like Eola.

Cortell, who grew up in Oregon, currently owns a vineyard management and consulting company in the Willamette Valley.

Fundamentally, she says, “It’s coming from having viticulture and enology education programs. We also have OSU that teaches classes in vineyard management and winemaking.”

She has an undergraduate and Master’s degree in Horticulture from Oregon State University. In addition, she completed her doctorate in Food Science and Technology at OSU where her research focused on the influence of vine vigor on fruit and wine phenolic chemistry.

Through these colleges and the programs they offer, the impact upon the wine economy, and within the wine industry, is profound.

This is a result of the students who graduate from these programs.

“It’s just a great opportunity right here in their backyard,” Cortell says. “Being able to follow from pruning all the way through to harvest, then from harvest all the way through to bottling – the whole process.

“You look at the number of students in the industry who have taken classes here, or got a degree here, and it’s pretty amazing. It seems like almost everyone has taken at least one class here.”

Cortell says that between OSU and Eola, there has been “quite a few years of adding a lot of educational value that helps raise the bar and the quality and the status of Oregon wines.

“We’ve had a lot of good students come through. And those of us on the faculty – we’ve also worked in the industry, so we come with a lot of industry experience.

“We’re not just book learned.”

Interestingly, that sentiment also applies to many of the students that attend Eola.

Although there are a few traditional students of a younger age in attendance, many students, Mack says, are older, non-traditional students who have already completed professional programs.

Those individuals are now either looking to change fields, or establish something resembling retirement plans.

Fischer falls into the former demographic.

Having spent a number of years in wine sales, he says his current plan is to learn about other aspects of the wine business.

“I lost my job in 2011,” Fischer says, “And it was a fantastic opportunity for me to reexamine my life – to think about what my next step was going to be.

“This program was something that I knew about, and it was something that I had wanted to do. But I never really had the opportunity to pull myself away from work and other obligations to really dedicate the proper amount of time to it.”

Last Call

Chemeketa’s official recruitment and awareness brochure states that the vineyard acreage and number of wineries in Oregon have increased steadily in the past few years.

And that the size of individual wine grape plantings has also increased, with a projection for that growth to continue.

For a student, or otherwise career minded individual, who has a passion for wine, and may also be looking for that employment opportunity within a thriving business economy, Eola stands as an excellent option.

With three different, but interconnected programs to choose from, the Northwest Viticulture Center stands apart as a unique and world-class facility to obtain a well-rounded learning experience.

For more information on the programs, term schedule, or campus, visit the website,

Or just take a drive out west along highway 22, and keep an out for the little blue sign. You won’t regret it.

“Late in the evening,” Adams says, “looking out over the vineyard at the sun just beginning to set in the west – amazing.”

The view, the atmosphere, and the indescribable smell of nature – it really is a campus set apart from the orthodox college experience.

And without experiencing it personally, it is hard to appreciate just how marvelous is it. Kind of like a good wine.


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