Internships Engage Students through Hands-On Experience

INDUSTRY FOCUS

By Kari Richards, Undergraduate Coordinator, Viticulture and Enology Program And Ian Merwin, Professor, Horticultural Sciences

Nova McCune Cadaatre '06
Nova McCune Cadamatre '06

Cornell viticulture and enology (VIEN) majors learn the principles of growing grapes and making wine in their classes at Cornell. But an integral part of their education is practical experience working in vineyards and wineries—both in New York and farther afield. Internships provide the crucial link to the nuts-and-bolts activities of growing grapes and making wine, and, at the urging of industry advisory groups, we incorporated internships as a central element in the undergraduate program.

All VIEN majors are required to complete an internship prior to graduation, and many elect to do more than one. For students, the internship is not just a job, it’s a fundamental part of their education. Students are advised to seek opportunities where they will both work and learn through a range of vineyard or winery tasks. From the students’ perspective, the summer months are often the most convenient time for internships. However, if scheduling allows, they may also intern part-time in the spring or fall semesters, or seek an extended internship from May through December to work the entire growing season and crush.

Because the wine industry is global and varied, students are encouraged to explore opportunities for internships abroad. In 2009, Cornell VIEN students worked in Germany, Chile, California, Ohio, British Columbia, and at least four different wineries in the Finger Lakes and Long Island. Currently, students can apply for a competitive scholarship funded by the Cornell Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Alumni Association to support travel and a work stipend in countries where a work visa is not feasible.

Several Finger Lakes wineries have hosted both short-term and long-term interns. Dave Breeden, winemaker at Sheldrake Point Vineyard, has worked with 10 interns over the past four years, making him an enthusiastic supporter of internships. “The students are interested in what they are doing, and they are smart,” he said. “That’s a good combination, and it makes my job easier because I don't have to watch over them."

Atwater Estates winemaker Vinnie Aliperti aims to help the students get a realistic perspective on winery operations. “We try to expose them to a variety of tasks—from sampling fruit in vineyards to tank cleaning, monitoring fermentation, making additions to tanks, and punching down caps for red fermentations,” he said.

For the students, an internship is a time to learn practical skills and see the implementation of viticulture and enology principles. Former Sheldrake Point Intern Evan LaNouette blogged about a busy final day at Sheldrake Point, saying, “On my last day, I was given the opportunity to manually punch-down the cap of fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon wine with a hand plunger. Next, I worked with Dave Breeden at rearranging oak barrels for small back fermentations … For the larger variable volume tanks, Dave asked me to pump over fermenting juice to re-submerge the grape cap atop their Cabernet Franc fermentation. This required me to literally climb and kneel on top of a fixed volume stainless steel tank and manually hold the pump-hose to direct flow over the breadth of the cap.” Such exposure to the gamut of operations can expand a student’s perspective on what it means to be a vineyard manager, winemaker, or owner.

Arranging internships. Students use a combination of search methods to arrange internships—including faculty and staff referrals, direct wine industry contacts, and searching in the CALS Careers Office. Information on employer services options is available on the CALS career development office webpage.

Once students have arranged an internship opportunity, they are required to complete a brief learning contract that is signed by the student, their faculty mentor, and the industry employer/supervisor. This clarifies the expectations and arrangements for all involved and emphasizes the educational aspects of the internship. The questions to be completed by the student in each learning contract are as follows:

  • What are your roles and responsibilities?
  • Describe the supervision to be provided by the internship host. What kind of orientation, instruction, assistance, weekly meetings, consultation, mentorship, etc., will you receive and from whom?
  • What do you intend to learn through this experience and how will your internship enable you to meet your learning objectives?

To advertise an internship, or learn more about the program and expectations, contact Kari Richards, coordinator for the VIEN major, at ksu2@cornell.edu or (607) 255-2539.