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From grapes to wine-learn the business at RCC

A new course to be added to Rappahannock Community College’s offerings—“Introduction to Viticulture,” beginning on August 30—will explore both the requirements for growing grapes successfully and the process of turning them into wine. Instructor Ray Petrie (the proprietor of Belle Mount Vineyards in Warsaw) will cover vineyard site selection, soil and nutrients, grape varieties, trellis designs, pruning, pest control, economics, and resources. His discussion of winemaking principles will include fruit sources, equipment, and legal considerations.

Ray Petrie of Belle Mount Vineyards

Ray Petrie of Belle Mount Vineyards

A Virginia Tech biology graduate with a background in chemistry and horticulture, Petrie is a member of the Virginia Vineyards Association and the Virginia Wineries Association. In addition to running his own operation and teaching classes, he provides technical support for novice and professional growers in Virginia.

“I wanted to make good use of my land,” says Petrie about his 10-year-old venture at Belle Mount. “It was a good spot for a vineyard, and the industry was open at the time.” Since then a number of other growers have set up operations, but Petrie welcomes the competition: “I didn’t want it to be just me and Ingleside.” Currently, nine area wineries combine forces to promote the “Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail,” which stretches over seven counties—Stafford, King George, Westmoreland, Northumberland, Richmond, Lancaster, and New Kent—and fosters tourism as well as wine sales.

“Coastal Virginia is a good location, like the Bordeaux region of France,” says Petrie. The sandy soil, mild maritime climate, and rolling hills are ideal for growing grapes, although the humidity is not; but native varieties such as the Norton are accustomed to it, while imported strains can be grown on trellises to make the most of sunlight and breezes. Harvesting can begin when the vines are three years old, but they are not considered mature until their fifth year. A yield of five tons per seven acres per year is possible, but the actual harvest depends on such factors as weather, bird and insect damage, and fungus outbreaks. Petrie grows 12 varieties of grapes, and produces six to seven kinds of wine . . . about 1500 cases per year. As a Virginia Farm Winery, Belle Mount is permitted to sell directly to customers.

“Virginia can become the ‘wine state’,” says Petrie, “but we’ll need knowledgeable workers.” Among the advantages of his classes is that students will be offered the opportunity for two or three weeks of paid work at Belle Mount during the pruning and harvest seasons.

RCC hopes soon to be able to offer a career-studies certificate on grape-growing and wine making. “Introduction to Viticulture” and “Viticulture I” (starting in the Fall semester) are included in the proposed curriculum.

2 Responses to “From grapes to wine-learn the business at RCC”

  1. Vitis Vinifera says:

    Will we get to taste wine in the classroom?

  2. Vitis Aestivalis says:

    I suspect we will be in the classroom, and we will taste wine (age appropriate of course), but not at the same time.

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