IAT prepares students for success in the grape and wine industry with hands-on experience

posted on May 1, 2014 12:06pm

Craig Cunningham (far left) shows IAT student Kurtis Berry chardonnay vines (view larger image)
Craig Cunningham (far left) shows IAT student Kurtis Berry chardonnay vines

Kurtis Berry put his classroom experience into practice earlier this spring when his viticulture class visited a Traverse City vineyard to learn about grape vine pruning.

Berry is a student in the viticulture certificate program, a two-year program at the Michigan State University (MSU) Institute of Agricultural Technology (IAT). All his coursework takes place at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City.

Berry and nine of his classmates spent a day with Paolo Sabbatini, associate professor in MSU’s Department of Horticulture. Sabbatini’s research focuses on a more complete physiological understanding of the winter weather’s effect on grape vines. He is also researching ways to optimize productivity and fruit quality for the grape and wine industry.

“After this record-breaking winter, Michigan’s grape vines were facing significant bud damage,” Sabbatini said. “The demonstration put a special emphasis on agricultural recovery practices such as evaluating grape vine damage and how to adjust pruning methods accordingly.”

Craig Cunningham, who owns Cunningham Viticultural Services (CVS), was there to share his knowledge and expertise. Cunningham’s company provides management services to wineries and other individuals involved in the industry. CVS is responsible for the management of more than 20 vineyard properties in northwestern Michigan.  

“We were lucky to learn from Craig,” said Brian Matchett, IAT regional program coordinator. “Craig is one of Michigan’s finest vineyard managers.”

While Matchett said it’s typical for students in IAT certificate courses to get hands-on experiences such as this one, he’s hoping they learned a little more this time.

“We’re hoping this was a once-in-a-lifetime winter where we saw the effects of a brutal winter on Michigan’s vineyards,” he said. “These students will be better equipped because we were able to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Craig and Dr. Sabbatini.”


Berry agreed.


“The whole experience was a lot of fun,” he said. “Both Paolo and Craig gave us great advice, but allowed us to spur prune the Chardonnay vines too.”