International internship will give Institute of Agricultural Technology student hands-on experience

Kurtis Berry's summer plans sound a lot like a vacation to Italy's wine country. But vacation isn't what he is anticipating. He knows it will be hard work.

Maurizio Ceci, owner of Vignamato, and Kurtis Berry

Kurtis Berry’s summer plans sound a lot like a vacation to Italy’s wine country. But vacation isn’t what he is anticipating. He knows it will be hard work.


“I’ve been working in the grape and wine industry for a few years, and I love both viticulture and enology,” Berry said. “I got an opportunity and I took it.”


Berry is the first viticulture student in the Michigan State University (MSU) Institute of Agricultural Technology (IAT) to go overseas for an international internship. He is in the IAT viticulture program, offered at Northern Michigan College (NMC) through MSU.


He will complete his viticulture internship at Vignamato Winery and Vineyard in Marche, Italy, located on the central east coast. Berry worked with Dr. Paolo Sabbatini, associate professor in the Department of Horticulture, to establish the internship. While he’s there, Berry hopes to learn more about vineyards.


“I’ve been working in the Brys Estate cellar but I’ve always been intrigued by the vineyards on Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas,” said Berry, who lives in Traverse City, Michigan. “I also know this is a tough business and that I needed to make myself stand out from the competition. I thought international experience would do that.”


Mike Altesleben, assistant wine maker at Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery and Berry’s supervisor there, said it’s important to have international experience because it opens the visitor’s mind to a new way of doing things.


“Every region or country has their own challenges to overcome, but also aspects that make their region special. It is important to embrace the culture and take some positive elements from that culture and try to implement them in to your way of life,” he said.


Berry has been working at Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery on Old Mission Peninsula for more than two years and received the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association Scholarship in 2014 and 2015.


“The grape and wine industry in Michigan is going to be stronger if students get experiences in another part of the country or another part of the world,” said Brian Matchett, who coordinates the MSU IAT program at NMC.


“Kurtis is perfect for this opportunity because of his positive attitude, his passion for the wine industry, his willingness to take on new challenges and eagerness to learn,” Altesleben said. “Kurtis is always talking about new ideas.”


Altesleben said Michigan’s young wine industry has a long to learn from Italy.


“With Italy, we are talking centuries of tradition in both viticulture and enology,” he said. “They have had a long time to hone their skills and there are reasons they do things a certain way. A Michigander could learn some old-world techniques that could be very beneficial, whether they are techniques used in the vineyard or the cellar.”


Berry, 25, said he doesn’t speak Italian but thinks he will pick it up “pretty quickly.” He will return to Traverse City in August and is on track to earn his certificate in May 2016.

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