Tiger Vines Vineyard runs on school spirit and helps graduates find jobs in wineries and vineyards

The Tigers of Yamhill-Carlton High School earn college credits by growing pinot noir grapes. This is what I call making learning fun.

Yamhill-Carlton is the only high school in Oregon to produce grapes for commercial winemaking. Have Ken Wright from Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton, making your wines Tiger Vines Vineyard isn’t too bad either.

Nine years ago, Wright noticed that students at Yamhill-Carlton High School struggled to find local jobs after graduation. Wright rallied the Yamhill-Carlton Winegrowers Association to help graduates find employment at local wineries and vineyards. Their answer: present a viticulture program to the local school board.

Led by board member Timothy Pfeiffer, in 2012 the Yamhill-Carlton school board voted unanimously to adopt the viticulture program. The vote paved the way for courses that complement the high school’s Future Farmers of America / Agriculture curriculum.

Pfeiffer also convinced the school board to turn 1.5 acres of unused school property into a “working field lab” for students to apply what they were learning to a working vineyard.

The high school viticulture program is based on the Chemeketa Community College wine curriculum in Salem.

“It gives kids credit to help them on their journey to certification in our industry. As far as I know, this is the only program like this in the country, ”Wright said.

In the spring of 2013, a group of students and volunteers got together to plant 22 rows of Pinot Noir vines near the school’s sports fields. After helping raise money to start the Tiger Vines winery, Wright promised the school board that he would never have to spend a dime on its upkeep. Wright kept that promise.

The Horticulture / Viticulture Course is where Tigers learn everything from soil testing to vine pruning. The popular option is taught by Jared Collins, AG Science & Tech teacher at Yamhill-Carlton High School. Students who complete coursework earn three credits at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany.

Collins said that all in all, between 50 and 60 students will be working the vineyard during the school year.

“If something needs to be done in the vineyard, I’ll even take my animal science class there,” Collins said.

Viticulture students receive lessons on the vineyard from Mark Gould, the head winemaker of Ken Wright Cellars.

“Mark is instrumental in our program. Nine times out of ten when we have kids working in the vineyard he’s there with them, ”Collins said.

Students in the viticulture program can also apply for two-week summer internships with Gould. The internship is described by Wright as an “intensive crash course in higher level viticulture courses”.

This summer’s interns, Calli Jordahl and Briley Ingram, received a $ 1,000 scholarship and college credit with Chemeketa Community College. The internship program is funded by Wright, his wife Karen and local winemakers.

Wright said the program is working.

“Liberty Seal is the perfect example of someone who has successfully transitioned from the program to a career job. His enthusiasm started with this high school vineyard, ”Wright said.

Seal, Class of 2016 at Yamhill-Carlton High School, is an agronomist with Marion Ag Service in St. Paul, Oregon. His job is to analyze soil and plant tissue samples to make recommendations to vineyard and nursery owners.

Seal attributes his high school experience to his career.

“This class got their foot in the door at Argyle Winery, which inspired me to study Crop and Soil Sciences at Oregon State University. Now I’m a crop consultant and I’m not even 23 years old. It’s because I had about six years of viticulture experience in high school, ”Seal said.

Ingram, Class of 2023, could be the next Liberty Seal.

“My experiences at Tiger Vines gave me a passion for viticulture. I want to learn more about the wine industry as I continue my education, hoping to be a part of it someday, ”Ingram said.

Although not found in wine, Ingram has learned many valuable skills in the workplace. In addition to learning how to design the Tiger Vines website, Ingram said the viticulture program taught him how to communicate comfortably with adults in a professional setting and the importance of showing up on time.

The sale of wine is how this unique program continues into the future. Rachel Collins, president of Tiger Vines, created a nonprofit company to do just that. The profits from the sale of the wines are used to cover the expenses of management and promotion of the vineyard.

To support the Tigers, buy their $ 30 Pinot Noir or a $ 22 Pinot Noir Rosé. They are available on the website or on Kookoolan Farms, Yamhill, Park and Main, Carlton and Park Avenue fine wines, Portland. or

– Michael Alberty writes on wine for The Oregonian / OregonLive. He can be contacted at To learn more about its coverage, visit

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