Viticulture and Enology students at Yavapai College’s Southwest Wine Center won big at the 2019 Grand Wine Competition last Saturday as they brought home the top award--Best in Show--for their 2018 Viognier, beating 219 entries from 32 Arizona wineries. The 2018 Viognier also won Best White Wine and Best of Class categories.

Winning at the Grand Wine Awards is like receiving an Academy Award for wine. It is a blind taste test. A coterie of 20 judges knew what type of wine they were served but not the winery that produced it. They examined the look, smell, and taste of each wine, scored it, and then debated their findings to determine the winners in each category.

The Best in Show was the crowning achievement, but Southwest Wine Center students won awards for five more of eight wines submitted, with strong showings in both red and white classes. They won Best of Class for the Malvasia Bianca, Double Gold for the 2018 Carignan and the 2018 Refosco, and Silver for the 2018 Nopal and 2018 Big Red.

Michael Pierce, director of the winemaking programs, is not surprised by the quality of the student-made wine. “We’ve got excellent facilities, we produce really nice grapes, and our students bring passion and energy to winemaking," he said. "All I do is guide them. They make their own decisions about how to make the wine. Sometimes we fail, but more often, we succeed.”

The competition is run by The Arizona Republic and in cooperation with the Arizona Wine Growers Association. Wineries pay a fee to enter the competition and the proceeds are donated to fund scholarships and other needs at the Southwest Wine Center. Lisa Russell, a graduate of the Viticulture and Enology Program and manager of the Southwest Wine Center's tasting room, is especially proud of these awards.

“These are student-crafted wines," Russell said. "It’s exciting when students, who receive scholarships from this competition, enter their wines and come out on top. It proves that our program is working and deserves the support we are receiving.

"Not only that,” she adds, “we're a community college offering the only program of its kind in Arizona. The cost is reasonable compared to programs offered at other colleges in winegrowing states. I did the research and took advantage of the scholarships. Anyone can do it without incurring a lot of student loan debt.”

Since its inception, the Southwest Wine Center has made its programs accessible to all types of students, including those living far away from the campus. The Viticulture Fundamentals Certificate program is designed to prepare individuals for careers in the grape growing industry. This comprehensive program includes online instruction plus quarterly weekend “Grape Camps” that are a hands-on experience at the vineyard. A high rate of graduates go right into the wine industry, and many graduates have started their own award-winning labels.

The Southwest Wine Center’s tasting room teaches students how to interact with the public. “It’s important for students to learn general varietal characteristics and how to communicate the flavor and aroma profile in way that resonates with people so they want to take a bottle home,” says Russell. One semester is devoted to the business aspects of winemaking. Students create a business plan, learn about branding, and how to compare the costs associated with sales, distribution, and marketing their brand.

Every award-winning wine is available for sale at the Southwest Wine Center tasting room, located at 601 Black Hills Drive in Clarkdale. The tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. For more information, email or call 928-634-6566. Learn more about the Viticulture and Enology academic programs and resources at Yavapai College by going online to