‘Grape’ expectations for Niagara College winemaker Gavin Robertson
Nuffield Scholarship recipient to travel world seeking solutions for Canada’s grape and wine industry
The world awaits Niagara College winemaker Gavin Robertson.
The NC Teaching Winery head winemaker, vineyard coordinator and instructor – who is also a graduate of the College’s Winery and Viticulture technician program (2011) – was among four applicants recently selected for Nuffield Canada’s scholarship program, aimed at fostering agricultural leadership and personal development through international study. As a recipient, the St. Catharines resident will receive $15,000 and the opportunity to travel to renowned wine regions around the world to find solutions to challenges faced by Canada’s developing grape and wine industry.
Robertson said he applied for the Nuffield scholarship recognizing that the growing Canadian wine industry depends upon agriculture.
“This industry, from grape to glass, relies entirely on the health and specific qualitative attributes of more than 31,000 acres of vines planted in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and several other provinces and territories – and on the people that farm those vines,” he said. “My position at the Teaching Winery and as instructor at Niagara College has provided me with a great deal of insight into the many challenges that these grape growers face.”
Robertson believes these challenges – including environmental factors, urban land use incursion and land pricing pressures, competition from larger markets, regulatory constraints, and a multitude of labour issues – can be addressed with improved skills training programs and communications with larger, more established growing regions abroad, including traditional wine regions in Europe, as well as the ‘new world’ of grape growing and winemaking such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, parts of South America and the United States.
“It seemed clear that there could be some really useful lessons gained by examining the ways in which these industries train their own vineyard workforces, which could be applied in a Canadian context to effectively help our industry,” said Robertson. “Nuffield Canada offered a really interesting opportunity that would allow me to pursue this topic of study, and I was elated to find out that my proposal was awarded a 2018 scholarship.”
Robertson’s application for the scholarship was shortlisted based on merit, then he was interviewed by a selection committee before he was selected.
“I’m grateful for the support that I’ve received from the administration and my colleagues at the Teaching Winery, the Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Research and innovation, and NC at large, who have provided encouragement and strategic guidance in the initial stages of this project, and who understood the value of what Nuffield provides to agriculture in Canada,” he said. “My highest hope is that this spirit of collaboration, investigation and innovation will help drive a more agile, robust and progressive Canadian viticulture industry in decades to come.”
“I am very happy and proud of Gavin to take the steps required to foster agricultural leadership and his own professional development for this prestigious scholarship,” said Steve Gill, general manager, Niagara College Learning Enterprises Corporation. “He will be able to gain valuable experience for both himself and Niagara College, as well as put the College on the global map. He will be learning and working with grape and wine industry stakeholders from around the world and will be able to incorporate best practices here at home.”
Recipients of Nuffield Canada Scholarships have two years to complete the program – which includes 10 weeks of international travel, followed by the submission of a report on their findings. Findings must be approved by a reports committee before they are presented and the title of Nuffield Scholar is officially conferred.
“Nuffield Scholars build upon existing leadership and organizational skills, while exploring issues critical to their respective industries, and to Canadian agriculture. The international experiences gained during their study travel provide opportunities and perspectives that will add tremendous value to their individual careers and to the Canadian agricultural community, as a whole,” said Shannon McArton, executive director of Nuffield Canada. “Gavin is our first wine industry scholar, and we’re very excited about this expansion of our scope of agricultural experience.”
For more information about Nuffield Canada visit http://nuffield.ca/wp/
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Raised in the Ottawa Valley, Gavin studied the Humanities in Nova Scotia before moving to Europe where he encountered wine as a crop, and as a culture, picking grapes to fund his travels and developing his palate at every opportunity. On his return to Canada, he enrolled in the Winery and Viticulture Technician program at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, and expanded his education through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and the Court of Master Sommeliers programs. Having worked in a variety of vineyards and wineries in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, he is currently employed as Head Winemaker and Vineyard Coordinator and as an instructor, at the Niagara College Teaching Winery. He lives in St. Catharines, ON, with his wife, Rachel.
Gavin is the Head Winemaker and Vineyard Coordinator at the Niagara College Teaching Winery, a commercial grape growing and winemaking enterprise associated with a variety of food and beverage science programs at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. He is an instructor at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College, and with the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. He has acted as Faculty Research Lead on several research partnerships within the Niagara College Research and Innovation and International divisions. He is also co-owner and the lead Cidermaker for Garage d’Or Ciders, a producer of small-batch, artisanal hard ciders crafted using 100% Ontario-grown apples.
Plans for Nuffield study topic:
Gavin’s Nuffield project will investigate the relative merits of a variety of academic and applied viticulture training programs in world-renowned wine regions in France, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. He will engage with key players to determine the structure, content, curriculum delivery and institutional resources of each. He will also speak with industry stakeholders in those regional grape growing industries to identify the ways in which the training programs best address industry needs with regards to skills training and effective knowledge transfer from the classroom to the vineyard. He is particularly interested in examining how these institutions engage and partner with local industry to establish programming criteria to equip graduates with the most appropriate skill set for the region, and the ways in which they produce graduates who are adaptable and resilient in an agricultural field that is forecast to change rapidly given social, economic, climatological and techno-scientific factors. This data will help inform a set of guidelines and recommendations that will be valuable to the developing grape and wine industry in Canada.