Producing wine is hard work.
Every step – from planting and harvesting the grapes to barreling and aging the fruit and bottling the wine – requires specialized skills and knowledge. But many people who do this work only see one step at a time, and rarely get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
A program partnership with Chemeketa Community College, Linfield University and a group of Latino wine professionals aims to change that.
AHIVOY, Spanish for “here I go” and short for Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad, provides vineyard workers with 17 weeks of job training and education on all things wine.
“We need to support our community, and that includes everyone in that community – especially those who do all the work,” said Bryan Berenguer, new AHIVOY Board Member, Instructor and Chair of the Management Program. vineyards in Chekeket.
The program invites “vineyard stewards” – which is how AHIVOY likes to recognize people who work in the vineyards – to spend one day a week for 17 weeks in a classroom and in the field to learn. They learn everything from vineyard management and winemaking to grape science and wine tasting. Upon completion, they earn a certificate from AHIVOY and the opportunity to claim two continuing education credits.
Students are paid to participate. Those who apply are eligible for a scholarship that includes a $15/hour stipend for their time in class – six hours a day every Wednesday. The stipend is intended to supplement any income participants lose by missing a day’s work.
Develop industry skills
For Sam Parra, co-chairman of AHIVOY’s board of directors and founder of PARRA Wine Co., the program is not a way out of the wine industry, but a way through it.
“We don’t provide education to change careers,” Parra said. “But we provide an education at the backbone of the industry that rarely receives media coverage, evaluation or recognition.”
Parra grew up in the wine industry as the grandson of wine workers who came to the United States under the Bracero program, a 1940s diplomatic agreement that allowed Mexican workers to work on American farms with short-term contracts.
As a child, Parra was encouraged to pursue higher education or learn a trade that was not farming. Farm work is hard, his grandfather told him, and it was expensive.
“Believe me, you don’t want to do this all your life,” Parra recalled his grandfather telling him.
But wine was his destiny.
Parra stayed in the industry and now owns a winery. His goal now is to help vineyard stewards advance in their careers.
“Many vineyard stewards don’t know what happens after the grapes are picked,” Parra said.
learn something new
Jose Garcia knows this, partly thanks to AHIVOY.
Garcia was part of AHIVOY’s most recent cohort; he graduated in April. He already had 35 years of practical knowledge under his belt at The Eyrie Vineyards and was promoted to Vineyard Manager. He wasn’t sure what else he had to learn.
But he always tries to get better at his job, he said. So when his boss, Jason Letts, owner and winemaker of Eyrie Vineyards, presented him with an application for AHIVOY, Garcia seized the opportunity.
“Honestly, I already knew a lot of things that they taught us,” Garcia said in an interview in Spanish. “But there is always something to learn.”
He learned, for example, to leave space between the canes to allow air circulation and prevent mould. He learned to prune the vines so that the grapes would not dry out.
His know-how breathes. On a recent hot summer day, Garcia was pruning the leaves to display the grapes, talking the whole time about each stage of the grape’s life cycle.
After 35 years in the field, he can identify vines not only by type, but by individual plant. Some are 50 years old, some of the oldest in the state, and he will show anyone who asks where they grow and how new vines grow from old roots.
His boss now fully trusts him, Garcia said. He doesn’t need to be told what to do; he can manage himself and his team.
The biggest thing he gained, he said, was a network of friends and colleagues that he can now rely on.
“We still talk all the time,” he said of his classmates.
They text each other with industry questions and meet frequently to swap stories and notes.
Opportunities for improvement
The first three semesters of the program were taught mostly in English, which Garcia said was a bit of a barrier.
He speaks and understands English quite well, but struggled to follow some of the more technical lessons in English. He also noticed that his classmates were disengaging.
“I never went to school,” Garcia said. “I came here to work. The little [English] I know, I learned from my brother.”
Garcia said he wanted classes to be more bilingual.
This is an obstacle recognized by AHIVOY. The program is meant to be an English immersion, according to the website. But they started offering more Spanish translation or bilingual classes last year, Berenguer said.
The next cohort will take courses in both languages.
The program is also predominantly male. The entire 2022 cohort was male. It’s also something AHIVOY hopes to change, said President DeAnna Ornelas.
The ultimate goal of the program, and the most common outcome, is to give graduates the knowledge they need to be confident in their work, Ornelas said. This is the whole philosophy of using “vineyard stewards”.
“People don’t realize how important they are,” Ornelas said. “It’s a craft. It’s something you have to be good at. [Grapes] are a very delicate and precious fruit. The history of wine begins in their hands.
And the hands tell a story. Garcia’s hands are dry, weathered. Workman’s hands, he said. He proudly displays them.
These hands make good wine, he says.