Germany's wine marketers have worked very hard to shake off the "Liebfraumilch" legacy. Today, and I speak from experience, the country produces world-class varietals and is making uncommonly beautiful light white wines, as well as some fine reds. Behind the scenes, viticulture and oenology researchers are busy developing new fermentation strategies, cloning varietals, and breeding root stocks that will be compatible with predicted climate changes. In fact those are but a few of the topics under active research in a field that is truly interdisciplinary, covering all the natural sciences in addition to engineering.
Research applied directly to education
Feeding results from the latest basic and applied research directly into the education and training of the next generation of wine growers is the aim of the Geisenheim Research Institute (Forschungsanhalt Geisenheim) in Viticulture, Horticulture, and Beverage Economics (GRI). Situated in the famous Rheingau wine region, the institute has a tradition stretching back more than 100 years. What's more, it is the only place in the German-speaking world where one can study viticulture and oenology to degree level or higher.
Two faculties from the Wiesbaden Fachhochschule (Wiesbaden University of Applied Sciences) are based at GRI. These offer a diploma in viticulture and oencology (Dipl.-Ing FH), which takes 4 years and covers subjects from analytical chemistry to microbiology and marketing, including a half-year practical internship. Candidates can enter the course with an Abitur or equivalent (i.e., a baccalaureate) with up to 100 new students starting every year (first semester entry is always in the winter term).
According to GRI's director, Professor Klaus Schaller, the real strength of the course is that all the lecturers are research scientists themselves and he believes "that is very beneficial for the students". He recommends that anyone interested in studying at Geisenheim should have some prior practical work experience in a vineyard or company. Interestingly, although many of the students come from winemaking families, it's his opinion that the ones that don't are often the most highly motivated. Although most of the students are German (as is the language of instruction) they also attract overseas candidates, currently from Korea, Japan, Ukraine, and Italy. Indeed the world of viticulture and oenology is very international, and Geisenheim has strong research collaborations with South Africa, Australia, Italy, and Romania.
Good employment prospects
The good news is that employment opportunities for graduates are currently very abundant. Professor Schaller told Next Wave that "on our notice board we have more free positions than applicants". He explained that "50% to 60% of students go back to their own wineries at home and the rest of the students will look directly for a job in the industry". Furthermore, the longer-term career prospects also appear to be extremely healthy and Schaller comments that "graduates are more or less offered leading positions at farms and wineries, and after a while you can find these young people in top positions of the wine industry." Many also do a stint abroad and there is currently a trend to visit other wine-producing countries and "get more information about winemaking and the adherent philosophies in other countries".
Partly due to this globalization of the wine scene, Geisenheim, in conjunction with the Wiesbaden University of Applied Sciences, is offering a new BSc. course this year, with a distinct marketing focus. Wine Economics (Wein Wirtschaft), Schaller feels, will be of particular interest and relevance to the upcoming generation. Further new courses in the pipeline include a BSc. and MSc. in oenology which will be run in conjunction with the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen. Schaller is curious to see how the new BSc./MSc. qualifications will be received by the German wine industry.* Postgraduate research positions are also available at the institute, funded by the Federal Ministry for Agriculture in Bonn, the BMBF, and the DFG.
With such high-profile alumni as world famous winemaker Robert Weil, it certainly looks as though Geisenheim has got it right. If you would like to know more about combining your love of science with an interest in wine, you can e-mail the institute directly for further information.
* Editor's note: there is a recent national trend to establish BSc. and MSc. courses as an alternative to the German Diplom qualification. Next Wave will investigate the first experiences of students on these courses, and the attitude of employers to them, next year.