Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Campus crush: Allan Hancock's new winery prepares for the next crop of viticulture and enology students
BY WENDY THIES SELL
Allan Hancock College’s viticulture and enology students have a lot to be excited about when they return to school in Santa Maria mid-August.
Not only will they be harvesting chardonnay, pinot noir, and other wine varietals from the community college’s 4-acre vineyard, this year they will also have an impressive new campus winery at which to learn and practice winemaking.
The nearly completed 1,500-square-foot winery is located in Allan Hancock College’s new $17.6 million Industrial Technology Complex on the north end of campus, near the vineyard.
The winery also has about 2,800 square feet of outside work area and all the necessary equipment, such as a new de-stemmer, various presses, a semi-automatic corker, a cold storage room, eight new stainless steel tanks, oak barrels, and forklifts.
“It’s a great new building,” said Hancock’s Viticulture and Enology Program coordinator and instructor Alfredo Koch said “I think we have all the equipment the students will find in an industry setting, in a new, updated winery.”
The facility will be used for winemaking, storage, lectures, tasting events, and fundraising.
In addition to building the new wine production facility, Hancock is offering several new agribusiness/viticulture and enology courses beyond introductory classes this fall, including viticulture operations, vineyard irrigation, wine tasting room sales, small acre grape growing, basic winemaking, ag sales, communication and leadership, and sensory evaluation of wine.
“Our program is the most complete in Southern California, for a community college,” Koch said.
Right now, the college is waiting for word on applications submitted for bonded winery permits.
“If everything goes according to plan, we should be approved for this harvest,” Koch said.
The permits are necessary for wines produced at the college to be poured at tasting events and sold.
Attorney Brian Simas, who specializes in wine and agribusiness law at Kirk & Simas in Santa Maria, assisted the newly formed Viticulture and Enology Foundation in the permitting process.
“The school has the ability to sell its product—and that’s not only to share with the community, but it’s a revenue raiser,” Simas explained. “It’s the ability to showcase what we have here in the Santa Maria Valley and to give students a really fantastic learning experience.”
Paul Murphy, dean of academic affairs at Allan Hancock College, said it’s an exciting time for the program.
“The opportunity to have a bonded winery permit gives our students really a chance to see commercial wine production from vine to wine,” he said.
“The students will be able to go from harvest to crush to winemaking to bottling to developing labels at a potentially commercial-level operation,” Murphy added. “Along the same lines, they are also going to have to experience the challenges in running a winery in terms of the paper work and legal regulations that are associated with that.”
Enrollment in the wine program has doubled to more than 500 students since Dr. Koch came on board eight years ago.
Students are enrolling in Hancock’s agribusiness program from across the United States, and from as far away as Japan, Canada, Croatia, Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland, and Argentina.
Koch grew up at the foot of the highest mountain on the Argentinian side of the Andes, in Mendoza—Argentina’s most prominent wine-producing area.
He worked at his grandfather’s winery and vineyard and, today, Koch owns more than 100 acres of vineyards in Mendoza.
He came to California to study enology and viticulture, getting his master’s degree in agriculture at Cal Poly then earning his Ph.D. at UC Davis.
Now at Hancock, he said the Santa Maria community college offers a great opportunity for students; it’s easier to enroll in than a four-year university, and it has its own vineyard, greenhouse, and now a new winery.
Upon completion of courses at Hancock, many students easily transfer to UC Davis or Cal Poly to take more specialized wine or viticulture classes.
“If they go to work in the industry, we believe they have a good foundation,” Koch said.
The college also provides its students with internship opportunities.
Hancock wine and viticulture students have interned locally and overseas in New Zealand, Austria, and Argentina.
Koch was in France last month visiting the University of Bordeaux in hopes of setting up an exchange program there with Hancock.
“We are very excited about the winery,” Koch said. “We’d like to invite the community and all prospective students to consider taking courses. There are new and interesting courses, so they can check them online. We’d be happy to help everybody.”
Hancock’s website is hancockcollege.edu.
Contact the Sun’s wine and food columnist, Wendy Thies Sell, at firstname.lastname@example.org.