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Texas

Palo Alto Develops Degree Program In Response To Booming Texas Wine Industry

Winery co-owner Julie Kuhlken shows off stored wine barrels at Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, Texas area.
Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
Winery co-owner Julie Kuhlken shows off stored wine barrels at Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, Texas area.

This semester, Palo Alto College introduced a new associate’s degree program called Applied Science in Viticulture and Enology. 

Though the program may sound obscure, it focuses on an industry well-known to Texans: wine. It’s the only degree program of its kind in South Central Texas.

The two-year degree plan includes science basics, as well as the specifics of viticulture and enology — grape-growing and the process of making wine, respectively. Courses include Horticultural Pest Control, Winegrowing Regions of the World and Landscape Irrigation.

According to Palo Alto College spokeswoman Erica Meza, the state's $13 billion wine industry is booming and needs workers trained in both areas. 

"The rate at which the wine industry is growing in Texas is staggering, and as we look at the different industries that are growing across Texas, we try to develop programs to feed that pipeline of educated workers,” she said.

Palo Alto officials said the degree can help graduates land a wide range of jobs, including lab technicians, cellar workers, wine critics and managers of vineyards.

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Overall, there are 394 wine producers in Texas across 4,368 acres with the help of 140,000 workers. The industry is focused mostly in the High Plains, along the Red River in North Texas, around El Paso and in the Davis Mountains. However, the nearby Hill Country has the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards in Texas.

Libby Aly, the executive director of the Blanco Chamber of Commerce, just east of Fredericksburg and Stonewall in the Hill Country, told Texas Public Radio this past June that the town benefits from traffic passing through on U.S. 281 on its way to wine country. 

She said wineries help pump millions into the Hill Country.

“Maybe two or three counties wide it would probably be in the millions when you look at hotel stays, sales tax revenue,” she said. “Before you go home you are going to need gas, you might decide if you went to more than a couple [wineries] that you would like to spend the night or you may be stopping and doing some shopping, going out to dinner before you head home.”

The state reports there were 93 active winery permits in Texas 10 years ago. Today, there are 530. The first classes of the new program start on Feb. 3.