Vine time: First students graduate from enology program

Amy Gekas plans to work for Talon Wine Brands now that she’s completed her degree in enology from Western Colorado Community College in Grand Junction.

“Colorado is home to an inspiring and evolving community of viticulturists and enologists,” Gekas said. “WCCC not only gave me the foundation needed to thrive in this industry, but helped me grow the skills necessary to help advance the wine business for future generations.”

Gekas is among the first students to graduate from the program.

Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, the enology program instructor at WCCC, said Western Colorado grape growing and winemaking industries are unique and require a specialized work force. “Growing grapes and making wine in Western Colorado is very different from other areas. We are growing grapes in a high desert climate at an elevation of 4,500 to 7,000 feet above sea level. These climatic conditions translate into fruit that has different parameters than grapes grown in other regions around the world.”

Baldwin-Eaton has worked in the local winemaking industry more than 22 years. She said improved grape quality has resulted in improved wine and a thriving industry. The Grand Valley is home to more than 30 wineries, and more than 90 percent of Colorado grapes are grown in Mesa County.

Brigitte Sundermann, vice president of community college affairs at Colorado Mesa University, said CMU and WCCC help develop the work force to meet the needs of local industries. The enology program offers an example of the collaborative effort.

“We designed this program to be hands-on because we have access to many wineries and grape growers, allowing practical experience for students. The program gives students training, resulting in well-rounded, prepared students who can immediately begin work in grape management, winemaking, marketing, sales or starting their own winery.”

Brian Stevens, head winemaker and chief operating officer of Talon Wine Brands, said wineries need employees who can take on many roles. “We support the program technically and financially through sponsorships because we know how important having thoughtful, future-oriented employees is to the growth of our wine industry and the quality of our products.”

Baldwin-Eaton said watching the first round of students graduate from the program constitutes a bittersweet experience. “Not having these remarkable people in my class each day will take some getting used to, but my loss is our program supporters’ gain.”