Ki-Be's viticulture class a natural for the region

By the Herald editorial staff

We never tire of touting the importance of the wine industry to the Mid-Columbia.

The full scope of the economic benefits from wine production and the associated tourism has yet to be realized, and we're always encouraged to see new inroads to further develop the industry.

So it was with a little surprise and a lot of intrigue that we read the news of a viticulture program at Kiona-Benton High School. The first reaction from some was that kids and wine don't mix. We agree, of course.

But viticulture is not wine-making. Viticulture is the cultivation of grapes, which of course is a prime part of wine-making.

If you break down viticulture, it's an agricultural vocation like many others. At its very heart, it's farming. And with it come all the hazards and heartaches that accompany the growing of any crop in the Columbia Basin.

Sure, these kids could be raising alfalfa or a new strain of potato, but in Benton City, wine is quickly becoming king. The school is just a hop across the river from the venerable Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, considered one of the premier grape-growing sites in the state.

The lessons in science are huge, and we're glad to see students getting out of the classroom and into the field for some hands-on learning.

We're especially glad to see them learning about something that could keep them here as adults.

Too often our best and brightest leave the region to pursue grander interests, sometimes without recognizing the options available at home.

Wine will only grow in significance, and our region's community colleges already have viticulture programs. Washington State University Tri-Cities is set to be huge player in producing the next generations of winemakers and viticulturists.

Why hold off on learning the basics of grape growing until the college years? Many in college studying viticulture aren't of legal drinking age either, and the laws still apply. Courses in wine tasting are restricted to those 21 and over.

The students at Ki-Be won't have much fruit from their labor for a few years. And when they do, they won't be making wine. They will press the grapes for grape juice so they can learn about that step in the process.

We applaud Ki-Be and the Williams family of Kiona Vineyards & Winery for helping bring an educational opportunity to the school that could give hometown kids a leg upin this important local industry.

Whether it turns into a career or a summer job during college break, learning about the very things that surround your life is a key to an enlightened mind.

So as long as the students keep their studies to grape growing and grape juice, we're all for it.

The young people who will guide this industry in its prime years ought to come from the Mid-Columbia. Thanks to Ki-Be's new program, more of them can.