Plumpton launches A-Level equivalent to boost English wine industry recruitment

Plumpton College, the only institution in England to offer wine courses at university level, is branching into secondary education with a diploma course designed for those aged between 16 and 18.

Chris Foss, head of wine development at Plumpton College.

Prior to the launch of the new qualification, head of wine development at Plumpton College, Chris Foss, spoke to the drinks business about how the the wine division has progressed since he started out and why he’s keen to attract younger students.

Foss, who has been at Plumpton since its foundation in 1988, having started out in the industry in 1976, told db that much has changed during his tenure.

Having operated as “a one-man band” for the first six years, he now oversees 10 hectares of vineyards which produce 40,000 bottles a year and a series of courses from the new A-Level equivalent diploma right the way up to a Master’s degree in viticulture and oenology.

With the original vineyard planted for him when he took up the role at the new specialist wine division of Plumpton, the college has since been through three different wineries and in 2006 raised funds for a purpose-built wine centre.

Plumpton College. Photo by Mark Allan

The wine centre includes two wineries – one for research and the other commercial – as well as laboratories and a sensory evaluation room.

Having once offered its university courses through Brighton University, Plumpton has recently changed validation partner to the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester in a bid to “enhance university education, research and consultancy for the land-based sector in the south east”.

In addition, the college also engages in research projects in collaboration with other universities, with students studying at Plumpton via the Erasmus programme – something, Foss told db, that he wishes to develop further.

“We have strength in language as all our courses are taught in English which is universally useful. We’re also not tied to a traditional industry and its norms, but that said we do focus on the English wine industry and have good links with the English wine trade and London in particular,” Foss said.

“We have to focus on our global appeal, and we do in the sense that we employ staff from all over the world. We’re New World with an Old World connection given the easy transport links with France, Italy etc. We’re very global”.

In order to ensure that its courses are meeting the needs of the industry, Foss told db that there is an industry consulting exercise comprising three surveys covering the wine business, wine production and post graduate courses. In addition, there is a curriculum advisory panel which meets biannually.

“There’s a real demand for viticulturists,” said Foss. “We have vineyards in the UK but have heard that wineries are struggling to find qualified people to manage them”.

Level three diploma course

To help satisfy this demand, Foss believes it’s important to promote the industry as a viable career path to younger individuals.

Entitled ‘The Level 3 Advanced Technical Certificate in Viticulture,’ the course will be available to those aged between 16 to 18 from September 2018.

Built on the growth of the English wine industry, the full-time year-long course seeks to provide “core practical skills and knowledge” for those looking to work within vineyards in England and abroad.

Students will also have the opportunity to progress on to the Plumpton College Foundation Degree in Wine Production if they meet the entry requirements.

The course will cover fundamentals including tractor driving and operating vineyard machinery through to key vineyard operations such as pruning, trellising and harvesting.

Aside from the course itself, there is the opportunity to study for a range of NPTC Pesticide Application certificates along with brush cutter and forklift truck operators certificates.

In order to be eligible for the course, applicants will need to have achieved four or more GCSEs between grade 9-4 (previously A-C) including English, Maths and a Science. The course will comprise two days of tuition a week plus work experience. For more information, please click here. 

Unlike the university courses, this course is validated through Plumpton itself.

According to Foss, the current average age of students at the college is 30. With the addition of this new qualification, he will be fulfilling his aim of attracting younger people into wine education.

Tom Newham, vineyard instructor at Plumpton College, added: “With the rapid expansion of vineyard plantings in the UK, there is an increasingly high demand for skilled vineyard operatives. Plumpton college has taken the initiative by offering alongside our graduate courses in Viticulture & Oenology, a practical based viticulture course to train a future UK workforce. Working through the academic year, students will focus on the seasonal practical aspects of running a vineyard”.

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