Vineyard finds home on campus

Vineyard When people think of wine, usually it begins with Italy, or maybe France, even possibly with California’s Napa Valley.

Rarely does Monroe County come to mind.

That’s all  about to change, thanks to Chef Kevin Thomas and the Bacchus Society.

Bacchus is the god of wine – the society is a mix of faculty, support staff, and administration.

The Bacchus Society was formed with the exclusive goal of creating a viticulture and enology program at MCCC. In other words, students will take part in the study, science, and production of grapes and wine.

Last year, while watching the installation of solar panels at the college, a brilliant idea was hatched to erect a vineyard on the college campus.

Wine is no stranger to the state of Michigan, and more importantly, Monroe County. Monroe was once the birthplace of the commercial wine industry in Michigan. Joseph M. Sterling planted his first vineyard in the Monroe area in 1863.

Later, Sterling became the first in Michigan to commercially produce wine under the Pointe Aux Peaux Wine Co. of Monroe  in 1868.

At one time, over 1,000 acres of grapevines were grown in the county. Sadly, Monroe’s wine industry seemed to die along with it’s founders.

In comes the Bacchus Society.

With a enhancement grant of $1,000 dollars from the MCCC Foundation, the vineyard was started. The vineyard began with 30 grapevines planted on the far southeast end of the campus. The vines are Vignoles, which are a medium bodied, white wine.

They were chosen based on their hardiness. Any vines grown would need to be able to survive the harsh Michigan seasons. Grape vines need good climate, adequate rainfall, cool breezes at night and sunny days.

Every three weeks during growing season, the culinary students, along with the society, head out to the vineyard to till the soil, pull weeds, and train the unruly vines to grow on trellises.

Not many community colleges can boast that they have their own vineyard. In fact, in the state of Michigan, only larger schools have such an opportunity.

Chef Thomas is thrilled at the learning experience this will provide for current and future culinary students.

“We want to be the first community college in the state of Michigan to offer a program in viticulture and enology,” Thomas said.

While the vineyard is “sleeping” through the winter, students are still able to learn about wine making.

There is currently a batch of wine fermenting. This batch was made from locally grown grapes since the newly planted Vignoles won’t produce wine quality grapes for a few years. The wine should be ready within the next 30 days.

The vineyard not only benefits the students, but will be a benefit to the community as well, Thomas said. He is hopeful the vineyard could be expanded, possibly in locations around Monroe County. 

Ideally, the Bacchus Society hopes to be able to use the wine produced by the college for special events on campus, such as the college’s 50th anniversary in 2014.

While the ultimate goal would be to sell the wine produced at the college to the community, that goal is a long way off. The main focus is to bring a Certificate Program in Enology and Viticulture to MCCC, adding to the current Culinary Arts Program.

“This has just taken off,” Thomas said, ” I get excited just talking about it.”

Culinary students will be part of bringing back the history of wine to Monroe County.

The vineyard, dubbed V1300 by the society, will get ready for  30 more vines set to be planted in the spring. V1300 will soon be home to numerous varieties of white and red grapes. 

The name given to the vineyard was in part in honor of Cuisine 1300, and the “V” stands for Vision, Viticulture, Veritas, Vignoles, and Vineyard.

The Bacchus Society hopes to soon begin accepting donations toward the V1300 project, which could assist to bring back the county’s rich heritage in wine.