Chilean high school students get head start in wine industry

Young Chileans in the Colchagua Valley are getting ready for the job market by learning the secrets of wine-making. From tending the vineyard, preparing and bottling the must to labeling the bottles, students go through almost every step of wine production – though leave the tasting to the adults.

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High schools in central Chile are giving students a taste of the wine industry by offering special programs in viticulture and launching their own brands of wine, including the evocatively named ‘Young Blood’.

At Lolol High School in the Colchangua Valley, 170 km southwest of Santiago, the idea for a course in wine-making came from a trip to an agricultural schools exhibition, where students and teachers found out about the basics of wine production.

“The students got the bug,” says Carlos Correa, the school’s technical coordinator, in Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, “and so we launched our own program.”

With the support of local vineyards Nelkihue and Santa Cruz, who lend the school the machinery and barrels they need, Lolol students now produce 200 bottles of wine a year and have launched their own brand, ‘Young Blood’ (Sangre Joven). The students’ wine is served to their parents at their graduation ceremony each year as a symbol of their achievement.

Alumni of the school now working in local vineyards are also lending a hand to the program, visiting twice a month to share their knowledge and guide the wine production. José Luis Reyes is one of these, currently working at Viña Santa Cruz while preparing to begin a higher education course in wine making. “We started out by acquiring corks, bottles and grapes for the production,” he told El Mercurio.

A similar initiative – and two more new brands of wine –  can be found at Las Garzas Agricultural High School, near the town of San Fernando, 70 km to the east of Lolol.

Las Garzas has its own vineyards, machinery, barrels and an analysis laboratory for students, and has launched its own student-made ‘Don Alberto’ and ‘Las Garzas Cabernet’ wines.  The school is now producing 3,000 bottles of its wine each year, and both brands are well-known and on sale in the local region.

The Colchagua region has become known as a center of excellence in Chilean wine production, winning more than half the medals awarded to Chile’s wine products at international fairs, and Lolol High School’s Carlos Correa believes that the school courses can be an important first step for students in Chile’s increasingly professionalized and competitive wine industry.

Many of the young people will go on to work in the region’s vineyards, he told El Mercurio, or to one of the many higher education programs in and around the valley, including courses in Viticulture, Oenology and Wine Production at the University of Talca’s Technology Institute in Santa Cruz. “Learning to make wine,” concludes Correa, “has been very good for the students.”

This post is also available in Spanish