Training the Next Generation of Iowa Winemakers with Apprenticeships

wine growers apprenticeship (1)
The Iowa Wine Growers Association created the nation's first Winemaker Apprenticeship.

Most people think of trades like Electricians and Plumbers when they hear “Apprenticeships”. The truth is, Apprenticeships are available in a wide variety of careers. As businesses have faced growing challenges finding qualified workers, and barriers to education have grown, more and more businesses have launched unique and innovative Apprenticeship programs in new occupations to help attract and train talent. Today there are apprenticeship programs in occupations like technology, healthcare, and even winemaking – right here in Iowa.

The Iowa Wine Growers Association (IWGA) launched the nation’s first Winemaking apprenticeship in 2016 in partnership with the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute, part of the Iowa State Extension and Outreach program.

Over the past 5 years, they’ve expanded their program to include three tracks – Vineyard Manager, for jobs on the grape growing side of winery operations, as well as Cellar Worker and Winemaker on the wine production side of the business.

The major motivation behind the creation of IWGA’s apprenticeship program was succession planning. “Winemaking and grape growing has been around for years in Iowa, but it really boomed in the early 2000s,” said Nicole Eilers, Director of the IWGA. “Some of the wineries that opened in that period were started by people later in life, so they don’t have 40 years to continue to run their winery. They need to train people to take over, and set their winery up for future growth and success.”  

The apprenticeship programs offered by IWGA are part of the association’s efforts to build a  future generation of winemakers in Iowa, creating qualified candidates for Iowa’s wineries as well as creating opportunities for Iowans to enter the industry and learn the necessary skills.

“After we started the winemaking program, we realized that our wineries couldn’t do things like attend high school job fairs to attract candidates. With winemaking, because there’s that alcohol component, there’s a 21-year-old age requirement that goes with it,” said Eilers. 

That led to the development of the Vineyard Manager Apprenticeship program. Focused on the growing and management of grapes, it allows for opportunities for apprentices as young as 18 to start a career in the wine industry. 

Following the Vineyard Manager program, apprentices could potentially move into the production side of the business in the Cellar Worker and then Winemaker programs.

“That’s what is great about apprenticeships,” said Eilers. “It could be a 4-year program, it can be as long as you need. It’s flexible.”

An important part of providing that flexibility to wineries was making sure that much of the coursework required for the apprenticeship program was available online. While some components of the programs are done through in-person classes and workshops, much of it is offered through online classes. This gave wineries in any part of Iowa the ability to utilize the apprenticeship program to train new workers. 

Since its inception, IWGA’s programs have graduated seven apprentices and have five currently active, and two more soon to begin in the new Vineyard Manager program. You can learn more about the Iowa Wine Growers Association and their apprenticeship program on their website.

Want to learn about more unique apprenticeship programs throughout Iowa? Subscribe to our blog below and follow along as we highlight more innovative businesses creating new opportunities through apprenticeships.

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Interested in an apprenticeship program, but not sure where to start? AxisU makes it easy. Contact us to learn more about starting a program for your business.

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