Trading Caribbean beaches for Ontario vineyards

When Nirvana Chan Chow first heard about Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture (OEVI) program, she knew nothing about winemaking.

But a convincing discussion with a Brock recruiter piqued her interest in the University and, after some research into its robust menu of programs, the Trinidad and Tobago native packed her bags and bought a plane ticket to Canada.

With her passion for science leading the way, Chow made the international move with her sights set on learning the ins and outs of the grape and wine industry.

“I was immediately drawn to Brock based on my experience with their representative Colin Ryrie at the college fair in Trinidad,” said Chow, who attended the event alongside her parents. “He was very friendly, welcoming and accommodating to all of our questions.”

Chow considered Medical Sciences, Biochemistry and Biotechnology based on her science background in high school, but there was a new field she found herself yearning to learn more about.

“Somehow, we came across oenology and viticulture, a term I’d honestly never heard before, and we were intrigued,” she said. “Winemaking? Wow, that’s different, especially as a Trinidadian because we have no formal wine industry and I have no wine background.”

Chow viewed a move to Canada to study at Brock as a chance to apply her science background to new opportunities.

“OEVI pulled me in as it had that sense of familiarity being a science-based degree but also a chance for creativity in the winemaking process, and new exposure,” said Chow, who is now in her second year of the OEVI program. “I’m fascinated with all the minor streams within the industry: marketing, sales and teaching; there are endless possibilities.”

As the only undergraduate program of its kind in Canada, the four-year Honours degree trains students in both viticulture and oenology with the option to specialize through course selection and undergraduate thesis work.

Encompassing various scientific disciplines pertaining to the grape and wine industry, the programs gives students experience in sensory science, biochemistry, biotechnology, chemistry, microbiology, genetics, cell and molecular biology, plant physiology and environmental biology.

Students also benefit from the presence of Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), where they learn from and work with world-class researchers in state-of-the-art facilities. CCOVI’s numerous industry outreach events and special lectures also provide opportunities for students to build connections with grape and wine industry partners.

“Attracting talented students like Chow to our one-of-a-kind OEVI program proves it truly has global appeal,” said Dean Ejaz Ahmed. “The Faculty of Mathematics and Science is proud to support and welcome our international students — diversity is truly the spice of life.”

Thus far, Chow’s favourite course has been OEVI 1P20 — Introduction to Wine.

“It was my first introduction to wine and wine culture around the world, and made me fall in love with my program,” she said.

Chow knows that she’s made the right choice with Brock, with the support of faculty and staff only affirming that decision.

“Sergio Paone, my Chemistry Professor from first year, is my favourite,” said Chow. “I really liked his calm demeanor as it made him approachable and he was really nice and helpful.”

Chow’s plan after graduation is to secure a job in the industry and gain as much exposure and experience as possible.

“From my interactions with winemakers, they’re all jacks-of-all-trades and very hands-on in their jobs. I really want to be like that — trained and prepared for anything,” said Chow.

She also recognizes the wine industry is global and that future employment opportunities could take her anywhere in the world.

“In the future I would really like to travel and, if the opportunity arises, work around the world while learning about the different winemaking processes and wine cultures.”

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