MU awaits state funding for teaching winery

Sunday, December 29, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — MU plans to build a viticulture and enology center to promote hands-on wine making and is waiting for matching funds from the state.

Viticulture is the study of grapes. Enology is the study of wine and wine making.

Heidi Griswold, development director in the Office of Advancement in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, said the center will include three buildings; a teaching winery, research building and wine and food education facility.

The project was approved by the UM System Board of Curators in November, Griswold said. It will be approached a piece at a time, starting with the teaching winery.

"The teaching winery is a $3 million project, and we currently have $1.5 million committed by industry partners and private entities," Griswold said. "The project now advances to the state legislature for matching funds."

Tony Kooyumjian, chairman of the Wine and Grape Research Committee, said the proposed teaching winery would be a commercial winery. It would replace a much smaller, experimental winery. Kooyumjian said the goal is for students to make and bottle more than 2,000 cases of wine yearly; the current facility produces 100 cases at most a year.

Kooyumjian said the facility will give students experience with cleaning machinery, filtering and basic machinery used in a typical winery.

The research facility will have laboratories, offices for faculty and an auditorium for lectures, Kooyumjian said. The wine and food education facility will be incorporated with the MU departments of Food Science and Hospitality Management, with cooking facilities for wine tasting and food pairings. This will demonstrate what Missouri food products and wine can accomplish together, he said.

"We need to inspire the students," Kooyumjian said.

Ingolf Gruen, interim director at the MU Grape and Wine Institute, which is funded by the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, said the experimental wine made now at MU is only used for chemical analysis.

"The winery we have now is just a hole in the wall," Gruen said. "It’s not up to a commercial level."

Kooyumjian said a location has been set aside to build the LED-certified facility that is within walking distance of campus and includes a parking lot.

According to documents prepared for a curators' meeting in November, the teaching winery will be adjacent to the Agricultural Engineering Building. The two-story,  9,300-square-foot building will have walk-in coolers and moveable wine-making equipment, according to the documents.

Kooyumjian said he hopes to break ground in spring 2015 with completion that fall.

Kooyumjian said he hopes the project will be proposed to the state legislature in the first 2014 committee session. He said the project has been in the works in the state viticulture industry for 20 years.

"We are hoping the interests in agriculture, wine and locally-produced food products will convince the legislative committee to approve," Kooyumjian said.

According to the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, the Missouri wine and grape industry has a $1.6 billion economic impact in the state and is ranked 12th nationally in wine grape production.The board’s mission is to encourage the growth and economic development of the Missouri grape industry.

"It’s an economic impact, but more than that, if someone wants to become a wine maker or vineyard manager there isn’t any place they can go other than New York or California for a top-notch university program," Kooyumjian said. "We think there is a demand from the Midwest to attract students that want to learn more about the science of wine making and grape growing."

Kooyumjian said Eckles Hall has been used for the enology and viticulture classes. The classes have become so popular that the program needs its own building, Kooyumjian said.

Cory Bomgaars, Missouri Vintners Association president, and Les Bourgeois Winery vice president of winery operations, said the winery has a partnership program with MU viticulture and enology students. Currently, two students work at Les Bourgeois Winery for 12-month internships during which they gain hands-on skills through wine making. The new teaching winery will be an expansion of this program, Bomgaars said.

"We’ve always taken advantage of MU’s hardworking students," Bomgaars said. "A majority of our employees started working with us when they were in college."

Bomgaars began working at Les Bourgeois Winery as an MU undergraduate 20 years ago. He said the MU wine and grape program is going to the "next level" with its own teaching facility and winery.

Jim Anderson, Missouri Wine and Grape Board executive director, said the board will partner with the university and UM System Board of Curators to help expand the Missouri wine industry.

"We feel it is a great partnership working with the university and the industry to help build Missouri viticulture," Anderson said. "Having the educational component for students, learning viticulture and wine programs, will let us expand our industry in the state."

Anderson said the goal is a team approach in which the board works with the university and students to help advance viticulture and enology. He said there are multiple funding sources through industry and private donors, which has created a unique partnership opportunity.

"Students will be more qualified winemakers when they finish the program," Bomgaars said. "This will have a huge impact on the Midwest wine industry."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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