Having a grape time

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Photo 1: Year 12 student Abi van Bergeijk. Photo by Luis Enrique Ascui, The Age. Photo 2: Wine label designed by students. Photo by Luis Enrique Ascui, The Age.26 March 2019

By Carolyn Webb, ‘Students learn the art of fine winemaking, but tasting is off the menu’.

While other students were in classrooms learning maths and English, one group of kids were out picking grapes. Their school, Mount Lilydale Mercy College, Lilydale, is one of just a handful in Victoria that teach winemaking.

Agriculture teacher Tim Thompson, to whom the wine-tasting duties fall, says that it makes sense for the students to learn winemaking as the school is in the Yarra Valley, with more than 90 wineries on its doorstep.

The course can provide a career pathway and the Yering Station winery at Yarra Glen gives students tours and sometimes work experience.

Year-round at school the students tend the vines, crush the grapes and monitor the fermenting process. They even bottle and design labels for the wine – McAuley Park, a cabernet sauvignon named after Catherine McAuley, founder of the Mercy order of nuns.

The school has had a vineyard for 20 years, since a Year 12 student planted it for his agriculture studies. School staff tended the vines without student input until Mr Thompson, who has worked at several local wineries, began the student winemaking program five years ago.

Year 12 student Abi van Bergeijk said she loves seeing wine being made ‘all the way from the vine to the bottle’ and plans to study winemaking at university. ‘Without this program I wouldn’t have even considered winemaking’, she said.

This is an extract of an article that was originally published in The Age on 20 March 2019.