In 2007 when the owners of a nearby winery suggested the Highland Community College-Wamego offer winemaking classes, Scott Kohl knew nothing about wine production. He wasn’t even a wine drinker. But as the director of the satellite campus, he was persuaded and gathered information to create the curriculum for a three-credit Introduction to Grape Growing course. When 17 students enrolled – one drove three hours to attend – Kohl was impressed that the college could respond to an unmet need. Enrollment was similarly strong when the college added an introductory winemaking course.
In 2008 Highland leaders agreed to join the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), not only to help the center funded by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program expand its online viticulture and enology degree program throughout the Midwest, but to reconfigure VESTA’s curriculum for in-person courses.
“From there things just started to grow,” Kohl said. Indeed they did.
For more than 10 years the small rural college has offered enology and viticulture certificate and associate degree programs. The teaching vineyard it started with VESTA support has grown to four vineyards with 5,200 vines. Most remarkably, the college created Highland Vineyards and Winery, LLC. The limited liability corporation is the business branch of the Highland Community College Viticulture and Enology Program and operator of 456 Wineries, a wine business incubator that is located across the highway from the campus. Income from sale of wine made with the college’s grapes, the rent paid by the wine incubator tenants, and grants help sustain the program that enrolls about 16 students per year. Many alumni are the owners or employees of the 60 wineries that now dot Kansas; the state had 12 wineries in 2007, Kohl said.