Niagara College’s head winemaker, instructor and alumnus Gavin Robertson joins a select list of difference-makers in Canada’s agricultural industry.
As one of the latest recipients of a prestigious Nuffield Canada scholarship (2018), Robertson is addressing challenges faced by Ontario grape growers – from weather and climate pressures to labour availability, pricing and land use issues – through his new report, “Keeping Vines in the Ground and Wine on the Shelf: Safeguarding the Future of Ontario Viticulture with Education and Training.”
“Nuffield Canada provides motivated agricultural leaders an international opportunity to broaden their perspectives and grow their global network,” said Leona Watson, executive director of Nuffield Canada. “This is no doubt a life-changing experience and we’re proud of all our scholars for influencing change in their sector.”
The report is a culmination of two years of international study made possible by his $15,000 Nuffield Agricultural Scholarship, which led Robertson to wine regions across the globe. Robertson got his boots dirty in the vineyards of nine countries and across three continents – including France, Italy, Germany, the United States, and South Africa – where he had an opportunity to learn from researchers, educators and wine professionals.
The knowledge he gained throughout his travels to different wine regions around the world, each facing their own unique challenges, enabled him to frame the wine industry and viticulture education system back home. He identified critical knowledge clusters and strategies to address challenges to the viticulture industry, which could be implemented in Canada’s academic and applied training institutions to help guide industry stakeholders through part-time courses, workshops or online offerings.
“My Nuffield project gave me the opportunity to greatly expand my own knowledge of fundamental grape growing techniques and viticulture education models in ways that will have a lasting impact on my professional life,” said Robertson.
Robertson is also part of the NC Research & Innovation team and has acted as faculty research lead on several research partnerships. Most recently, he was the research lead for the Royal Canadian Mead project for the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the R&I division.
General manager of the College’s Learning Enterprises Steve Gill applauded Robertson on the success of his Nuffield project.
“Through his leadership, Gavin has had a tremendous impact on the success of our College’s Teaching Winery, and we are so proud of his research that is poised to make a difference in Ontario’s grape and wine industry,” said Gill. “Gavin’s research encapsulates what our Teaching Winery is all about: using education to empower the viticulture industry for future success.”
Dean of NC’s Canadian Wine Institute Craig Youdale noted that Robertson is an integral part of the College’s wine programs, not only as a NC graduate but as a mentor to future winemakers.
“The Nuffield Scholarship was an opportunity for Gavin to both expand his knowledge and skills but more important was to create colleagues and connections around the world in the wine industry,” said Youdale. “He can now bring those skills directly to our students and share with our own faculty. Those connections he has fostered can help better connect our students and entire college to expertise around the globe and further bring our programs to a world-class level.”
One of the key recommendations in Robertson’s report underlines the vital importance of matching traditional viticulture training with proficiency in the most current mechanical and digital technology tools, such as precision viticulture techniques.
“Automated modes of technology will most certainly play a large role in efficient and sustainable viticulture in the near future,” said Robertson.
Such work is already underway within NC’s Research & Innovation division. Precision agriculture technologies are being developed at the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre to help local farmers with grapes, tree fruits and field crops. Since completing his Nuffield project, Robertson has been working with NC researchers to roll out tools such as remote environmental sensors for data collection at the NC Teaching Vineyard.
“This is just one example of the many ways that the scholarship has informed my own professional attitude and outlook, and I believe that many of the lessons learned are likely applicable to the industry at large,” Robertson said.
Robertson’s report and recommendations are now available on the Nuffield Canada website. Visit: Keeping Vines in the Ground and Wine on the Shelf: Safeguarding the Future of Ontario Viticulture with Education and Training.
About Gavin Robertson
A winemaker at the Niagara College Teaching Winery and an instructor for the College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Robertson oversees all wine and cider production, manages vineyards at two locations plus a small hop yard and cider apple orchard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. In addition to his work at the College, he owns a virtual artisanal cidery called Garage d’Or Ciders. Robertson graduated from Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program in 2011. He is currently a resident of St. Catharines, Ont.
About Nuffield Scholarship
Robertson’s Nuffield Scholarship was sponsored by Nuffield Canada Alumni. Canadian Nuffield scholars have travelled the world and brought new ideas home. Since 1950, Canada has awarded a total of 108 scholarships to those who are making a difference in the agriculture industry by sharing their knowledge and experience as consultants, mentors, board members, and sought-after public speakers. Visit nuffield.ca
Niagara College’s Teaching Winery is the first and only commercial teaching winery in Canada. It is located at the College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus, along with the NC Teaching Brewery and – the latest addition in September 2018 – the NC Teaching Distillery which were also the first of their kind in Canada.
Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit niagaracollege.ca.