Students explore career opportunities in wine and cider industry

It looked a lot like speed dating: strangers exchanging introductions and asking questions before a buzzer sounds to mark a switch in conversation partners.

But instead of looking for their perfect match, Brock Oenology and Viticulture (OEVI) students were using the 15-minute windows to meet and impress potential employers.

Hosted at Pond Inlet by Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) and Co-op, Career and Experiential Education, the Jan. 15 event brought students together with a dozen industry professionals to explore careers in the wine industry, including the booming field of cider production.

The evening’s setup offered the chance to ask questions about employment opportunities without the pressure and nerves that sometimes come with a job interview. The list of prospective employers included a research development specialist, a vineyard manager, an oenologist and several winemakers, as well as three representatives from the craft cider sector.

A little more than five years ago, there were only a handful of cider producers in Ontario, but today, that number sits at more than 60. 

“The industry is definitely exploding,” said Antonella Presta, a winemaker and cider maker at Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery and Ironwood Hard Cider, who came out to meet CCOVI’s latest cohort of talented students. “There are so many different styles and opportunities to make great unique products, not only apple cider but also perry (pear cider) and other fruit ciders. They can be hopped or oaked — the possibilities really are endless.”

That innovation has cider makers creating a range of products that appeal to a large and growing consumer base, which  has led to a booming industry. With growing demand for cider comes the need for more qualified workers, making the CCOVI career event a solid recruitment opportunity for producers.

Colio Estates Wines, in Harrow, Ont., has “changed greatly” since the purchase of Thornbury Cider three years ago and the introduction of Colio’s Cider House, said Chief Financial Officer Derek Cartlidge.

The business is currently undergoing a 6,000-square-foot addition and operations have doubled in size over the last several years and continue to grow. That sizeable growth was a big factor in bringing Cartlidge and Colio Estate winemaker Alison Christ to the Brock career night.

“It is a great opportunity to get face-to-face with some of these students who may not necessarily think of coming to Lake Erie North Shore, where we are located,” Cartlidge said. “We need help during harvest and we have co-op placements to fill. We are looking for people who are interested in learning and getting a hands-on approach.”

Colio and Sunnybrook Farm are just two of the many Ontario wineries now also producing cider.

CCOVI is helping apple growers and hard cider producers meet the demands of this rapidly growing market.

The Brock institute is the only program provider in Canada to offer a certification in cider production through the Cider Institute of North America (CINA), and also provides analytical testing services to help cider makers deliver the best product possible.

“With the strength of the OEVI program and CCOVI’s central role in professional development, our students and alumni are in a great position to be leaders in the growing Canadian cider industry,” said Steven Trussler, the CINA-certified instructor in CCOVI’s cider program. “Seeing these cider-based employers coming to campus to meet our students is great proof of that.”

CCOVI is in a position to further drive the industry forward with more advanced courses, including a new professional development program for cider makers that will be unveiled next month at CiderCon — an annual opportunity for the cider community to share ideas, collaborate and learn.

“Any time you can get a group of people with experience and knowledge to educate more people about cider, it improves the quality of the entire industry and is great for Ontario,” Christ said.

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