The practical experience that is part of the specialist bachelor degree of viticulture and winemaking at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT) offers students real insights into how the wine industry operates in Australia.
For first-year, part-time student, Micah Craze, 26, this hands-on style of practical learning is a real advantage, giving students the opportunity to directly experience what they study in the classroom.
One day a week in the course is allocated for students to work on NMIT's 10-hectare vineyard at Eden Park, established in 1995 and producing both red and white varieties of wine.
Students apply the theory they have learned in the classroom at the vineyard where their theory tuition gains heightened relevance.
'The balance of theory and practice works really well together as we can see an operating vineyard at different times of the year enabling us to understand all the factors such as weather, soil, irrigation, pruning, etc which contribute to the development of the grapes,' Micah said.
'It's real vineyard practice where students are also trained on tractors and quad bikes as well as learning skills in bird-netting too.'
Micah studies part-time on Tuesdays and Thursdays and previously to undertaking the degree program, was working in NMIT's vineyard as an assistant for nearly three years.
During that time, he was studying Certificates I, II & III in Food Processing (Viticulture ) at NMIT and was involved in a range of viticulture employment at the vineyard. Last year, he moved on to work at NMIT's 100-tonne winery at its Epping campus.
He still works at the winery on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in winery operations monitoring ferment of the wines in the stainless steel tanks, assisting in crushing the fruit, racking the oak barrels and developing the wine with various additives.
Because of his previous vineyard work and certificate studies, Micah does not attend the vineyard as other students do (he was credited with that subject of study), but said all his practical experience had given him 'a kick-start' for the degree.
'Doing the theory combined with the practical experience made viticulture make sense and I'm now learning more about viticulture in greater depth with a more academic aspect. I'm studying more viticulture subjects and enhancing my understanding of how important viticulture really is in winemaking.'
He added another practical component of the course was in plant biology, where instead of just perusing textbooks, he was actively involved in looking down microscopes to identify plant cells and the different make-up of various grape vine varieties through examining cuttings and leaves in the laboratory.
The students also participate in regular excursions to wineries, nurseries and other industry vineyards such as the winery at Scotchmans Hill on the Bellarine Peninsula where they networked with the head winemaker, Robin Brockett. The students usually spend several hours on the various properties where they're encouraged to ask questions and talk about whatever they need to know.
'The winemakers and people we've met in the industry love sharing their knowledge, experience and ideas so we're learning first-hand from people whose lives are all about making wine,' Micah said.
He added the students will also visit Mildura's 'wine factories' where winemaking is approached differently compared to small boutique wineries.
Micah said another plus to their excursions was having the time to share ideas with other students too, as they chatted with wine industry pundits.
'In the second year, we focus more directly on winemaking so that by our third and final year we can choose either viticulture or winemaking to focus on, depending on which path we want to pursue,' Micah said.
'With NMIT's modern facilities and the vineyard, the practical aspects of our study contribute in a big way to our understanding and knowledge of both viticulture and winemaking. It's the best way to learn.'
Degree Program Inquiries: Tel: NMIT (03) 9269-1042
Interview / Photo Opportunity
Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener, on (03) 92691579, 0413 483 182 or firstname.lastname@example.org
NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) - Situated on seven campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne's north, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce. NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.
Interview / Photo Opportunity
Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener.