V is for Viticulturalist: Classes study grapes on campus

Viticulture Technician Nathan Howell walks down the rows of WKU’s vineyard spraying weeds while agriculture professor Todd Willian and Franklin graduate student Kellee Montgomery clip vine samples. The vineyard is divided in half, with one side used for the viticulture class and the other for Franklin Montgomery’s thesis project, which involves experiments with different fertilizing techniques.

Spencer Jenkins and Marianne Hale

As vineyards at the University Farm begin to mature, they are being used as educational and research tools for the WKU community.

Viticulture, in a nutshell, describes the production of grapes, said Todd Willian, an agriculture professor who co-teaches a viticulture class this semester.

Nathan Howell, viticulture technician for WKU’s department of agriculture, said students learn how to train vines by learning about disease, insect control, fertility and pruning.

“There are two established vineyards,” he said. “It takes about three years to produce a grape at all.”

Willian said Howell has been helping out the class in the vineyard.

Howell, who has only been working as the viticulture technician for about a month, has his own vineyard at home.

He wants to get the community more involved with pruning and harvesting education classes, he said.

There are about 300 grape plants in the vineyards now, but there are plans to plant about 550 more in the near future, Willian said.

But for now, one of the vineyards is used in teaching the basics of viticulture, Howell said. Primarily seedless grapes are grown there that will eventually be sold to Bowling Green schools.

The second vineyard serves as a research vineyard focusing on the fertility of French hybrid grapes, he said.

Willian said the hybrids make a better quality wine, and they’re more disease resistant.

Although there are only two established vineyards now, there are long-term plans to bottle their own wine, Howell said.

Willian said they hope to offer classes on winemaking, too, but that is a while off.

“We’re not set up to do that yet,” he said.

But they are looking into marketing some of the grapes they’re growing now to local wineries, Willian said.

Morganfield senior Drennan Cowan said his family grows grapes at home back in Union County, but learning about grape production this semester has been a new experience for him.

“I’m kind of intrigued by it,” he said.

Cowan plans to enroll in the advanced viticulture class next semester if it fits into his schedule.