THE WINE PROFS SERIES: PART 3 HOUSE CALLS. TRAVEL. WINEMAKING.
This is a multi-part series about wine professors at the various schools focusing on the east coast. I have not covered every state, i.e. Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, etc. I have only focused on those from the major programs and who are seemingly spending a lot of time interacting among industry professionals at conferences, etc. These are the most recognized profs on the east coast. Apologies to anyone who feels they were left out. Happy to take contributions for up-coming segments. The idea of this series is to shine a light on what it is that wine profs do and the services they provide to the industry.
PART 3: HOUSE CALLS. TRAVEL. WINEMAKING.
Gary Pavilis still makes house calls. And as someone who’s involved in both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania wineries he has a lot of influence. His most recent announcement was so important, that the newspapers picked up the story. Pavlis announced that the New Jersey Governor’s Cup Competition would not longer accept contest entry wines that weren’t made from grapes grown in New Jersey. The grapes in those bottles had to be made from grapes grown in the Garden State. This is an example of how the east coast is evolving, maturing.
“This is a big step forward for people who grow grapes in New Jersey,” Pavlis announced to the 24 judges at the competition, held at a Rutgers facility in Cream Ridge. “I said for years that New Jersey has some of the best sites in the East for growing grapes.” The New Jersey-only rule knocked the number of entrants into the Governor’s Cup Competition down to about 300 compared to the usual 350 or so. As an example of what could be accomplished in local grape growing, Pavlis was talking about places such as the lima bean farm in Cape May, N.J., that switched to grapes and became Hawk Haven Vineyards, one of New Jersey’s brightest newcomers.
“Their red wines – mostly 2007 and a few 2008s — were extraordinary. I’ve judged this competition long enough to see the submitted wine –and the state’s industry – move from fruit and hybrid grapes to noble vinifera grapes,” wrote David Falcheck in the Times-Tribune. “The New Jersey wine industry has been around for a long time. But even for the six or seven years I’ve been paying attention, it has evolved fast and I look forward to its future.”
Those are the kind of results and opinions that The Wine Profs want to hear and by passing along information have been able to make happen.
Fiola has had the same experiences. A native of Philadelphia, he took a job in Maryland in 2001. As he jokingly told the Miami Herald, “They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.” So he moved to Maryland with his wife and two children. “Maryland’s soil and climate are good for grapes, from Washington to Hartford counties,” he continued. “I need so much help,” Fiola said of his responsibilities, talking about interns he gets assistance from. “Some work for pay, some for credit. They are working on their projects and helping me with mine.”
There’s “a level of intense viticulture that’s going on. Everyone has gotten the message that wine is made in the vineyard and if you want to make great wine, you’ve got to make great grapes."
Do you make house calls?
Bruce Zoecklein - Yes, but I as I alluded. I don’t just knock on doors. Because of the limitations of time, if a winery has something in a bottle I’ll come, but the analytical service also does the same thing. It’s a fee based service. In many cases I know their equipment etc. I do a lot of house calls for start up or the very early state of site selection. I have a cd on winery planning and design.
Denise Gardner - Many wineries call or email me for questions, but occasionally I have visited wineries that have asked for opinions on how to improve a specific area of their production.
Anna Katharine Mansfield - In keeping with our different job duties, Chris does more winery visits than I do. There are only two of us, though, to cover the whole state- so we aren't able to drop everything and drive out to wineries to help them when, say, their pump is broken and they don't know how to fix it. We're always trying to develop programming that reaches the most people at one time, so shortcourses and web-based materials are more of a focus than individual winery visits.
Chris Gerling - We do like to get our and see the wineries whenever we can. Time is the limiting factor for both the winemakers/ winery owners and for us. There is no better place to talk to industry folks than when they're in their element, however.
Do you travel around your state much?
Denise Gardner - Yes, I travel throughout Pennsylvania quite regularly – for workshops, seminars, conferences, winery visits, etc.
Anna Katharine Mansfield - Yes- we're enology extension support for the whole state, which has 5 distinct regions, and we make an effort to visit at least 4 of the 5 regions every year- to bring programming of some sort and to visit some wineries while we're there, in an attempt to learn what types of programming is needed, or what technical questions are common. We base our planning for future workshops and research from those visits and feedback forms at our programs. We were on Long Island a couple of weeks ago, and today we're headed out to Lake Erie. I was last in the Hudson Valley in February for the fruit school meeting, and we are planning a workshop for the eastern part of the state (Herkimer) in May.
Are people welcomed to make appointments, etc.?
Bruce Zoecklein - We don’t get a lot of drop ins. But we’re far away. Virginia Tech is an hour and half from the nearest wineries.
Short courses, seminars, we call in colleagues either practical and enologists….I try to roll folks into the programs…we bring in industry professionals, South Africans, French, etc. We have a strong effort to provide the region with international to understand the latest thing going on in the industry world wide.
The lab service is a great conduit to source and originating information. Most of the wine industry has texts books. I’ve written on wine production. I write enology notes that goes out to 3500 people around the world, which is a great way to disseminate information.
Denise Gardner - Yes, I have had a few winemakers visit University Park and others that have called specifically to visit their winery. If a winery visit is requested, I usually ask that wineries involve other Wine Trail members or other wineries close to their site. I’ve done several winery visits this way that have been quite successful.
Anna Katherine Mansfield - I'm not sure what you mean by appointments. As I mentioned, we aren't able to make house calls. Industry members are welcome to make appointments to visit us in Geneva, and we do respond to e-mails and phone calls.
If people call with questions we try to help them in whatever ways we can. The first step is usually to send a bottle into the analysis lab to check it out. As Anna Katharine mentioned, people are always welcome to stop by. If someone would really like us to visit, we try to schedule those in conjunction with planned trips or tours, but we don't make any promises (at least not in a given time frame).
“Most of the varieties I grow and make wine out of are not the traditional varieties, because I'm trying to find the Albarino, the Petite Verdots, the things like that that are catching on and are doing really well in our area, that grow viticulturally well, survive our winters, make great wine year in and year out. They may not be household names yet, but once people see them. To me, if you can make a great wine year in and year out, eventually people will learn that wine in that region and that wine will be accepted and people will learn the name. That's opposed to trying to force the issue with another variety that's known but just doesn't do well consistently in our area, whether its surviving the winters or get ripe enough each year. That would be like Cabernet Sauvignon,” Fiola told Patriot-News journalist Paul Vigna.
“The whites I have been trying to find grapes that will hold their acidity in hot environments and keep their acidity and keep their aromatic characteristics,” he said. “One example would be Riesling. When you put that in a hot environment, like the Eastern Shore of Maryland or the Eastern Shore of Virginia, it just doesn't produce any character type wines, as opposed to the Finger Lakes or northern Pennsylvania where it’s nice and cool. So that's been the idea of coming up with an Albarino or something like that will do well in the heat, retain the acid and have its fruit characteristics.”
“So I’ve been looking at known varieties around the world, plus there's a bunch of hybrids that have been produced all over the world, including some of the ones I have from the old Soviet Union, that are very aromatic wines but still survive our winters, survive our diseases in the summer,” but pointed out Fiola, “They want to be able to grow Merlot and sell Merlot because that’s what people know. That’s the kind of thing they want. Whatever variety people come in looking for, that's the thing they would love to be able to grow and sell because that's the easiest sell for them. But we can't always grow those varieties the best. “
Tell us of your most difficult experience…
Joe Fiola - I think it’s real important for people in this state to get a barometer on how the state is doing overall and how one winery is doing against another winery in the state . . . how the Meritage wines are doing, the Vidals, how the Chambourcin is starting to fit in. That's real important for us to see within the state what we’re doing well, what we are continuing to improve and what we need to improve…We’re starting to create our own little niche of what we can do best, and that’s a good thing…It’s an incredibly diverse state from west to east as far as climate is concerned, and I don't think Maryland will ever be known for one distinct [wine] because of the diversity we have from the mountains all the way to the southern and Eastern shores. It will always be a challenge for us to be known for one thing in particular.
Denise Gardner - I don’t think I have had a huge difficult experience, although I’m fairly new to this position. I remember I was really stressed out about hosting my first program back in January. I was worried I’d forget something or everyone would hate it. Not surprisingly, I was just psyching myself out! It went very well, and I had a really nice time with all the participants.
Anna Katharine Mansfield - In general, it's difficult to please everyone in our very large industry! We have industry members at all levels of knowledge, so all of our programs and publications need to be structured so that everyone can learn something, and no one is left out. That's challenging, and sometimes leaves individual attendees feeling that they didn't get enough technical information, or that we moved way too fast. It's hard to find the right balance.
Chris Gerling - I strongly second [Katharine’s] statement. Regarding helping with problems, people also have very different levels of experience and expectations of what extension can do for them. I would love the ability to fix every problem for every person that calls. That's not a particularly realistic, or even maybe productive goal, however. We need to help people so that they can mitigate whatever went wrong this time and then teach them to avoid that problem in the future. Still, I think extension people just want to help others and it's frustrating when you're unable to do it, even when they dialed the wrong number and are trying to make a dental appointment.
Tell us a fun experience…
Recently the highly acclaimed winery Black Ankle Vineyard made an Albarino. It was so popular they sold 75 cases in 18 sales hours. Fiola pointed to this kind of success to Paul Vigna, telling him, “the grape has offered a number of signs that it can be a player in this region, primarily because it's thick skin can ward off the diseases that arrive alongside the heat and humidity of a normal summer…It is a fairly well-known and respected name among wine drinkers, but once you get past that 5 percent that really know wine and really know varieties, [the knowledge about it] goes down quickly…There is quite a bit of interest, primarily from the viticultural end because it has fairly thick skins and it seems to do well in our environment here in the mid-Atlantic. It also seems to develop pretty good varietal character, what people call classic varietal character from the Spanish and Portuguese side of things . . . as far as getting the fruit but the mineral characteristic. It seems to be fairly expressive of that."
According to Vigna, Fiola noted that the power of Black Ankle's brand has helped push a varietal that remains a stranger to so many wine drinkers. "They have enough clout with the quality of wines they are producing that they are putting wines on the map themselves. They have such a strong following with their case club and bottle club . . . that until they get their new vineyard coming in, I don't see their Albarino being available to the general public other than through their case club because it has such a cult following right now. I think I have one bottle of that in my wine cellar right now. That's how little of that actually gets around."
I’m basically blessed with having the best job in the world. My passion is the research part of it. I have four research vineyards in Western Maryland. We’ve brought in varieties from other areas around the world that are adaptive to southern growing conditions in eastern Maryland. It was a lot of work. It’s very exciting, now, tasting the wines for the first time. Petite Syrah and Petite Verdot have been grown and tasted in Maryland. It’s very exciting. I’ve gotten a lot of growers interested. We have exclusive right to this one new variety. In the last three, four years I’ve won silver and gold medals with it. Very exciting.
Bruce Zoecklein - I was reminded the other day in Romania. A winery project in Romanian. We went to Murfatlar. I visited with a vigeron who was managing about six or seven hundred hectars of grapes. He didn’t speak English. We had a translator, a reformed communist. I asked him, “What is your major limiting factor in managing this vineyard?” Roughly replied through the translator, he reminded me of the universal winemakers mantra, his favorite time of year was mid way between the flood and the drought.
When I came here to Virginia...going to a place like Virginia was tangential. The California folks thought I was excommunicating myself from the wine industry completely. They suffered from the talking dog syndrome. People were so enamored with the dog that could talk, that they didn’t realize he couldn’t talk very well. People were thrilled they could grow vinifera. It didn’t matter if they were growing it well or not. We wanted to make that difference.
Denise and Anna were here with me at Virginia Tech. Virginia has already rounded that corner. There are already people making really high quality wine. They don’t have to justify the region to others. There was also a major problem with communication. Now we have a lot of science based information to further our understanding of what it takes to grow quality grapes and make quality wines here. We use that science base and move away from imperial information [unverified best practices that had informed the industry in years past]. Now our industry is a much better, more science based model.
Gary Pavlis - We have to find those sites and we have to stop growing grapes where they should not be grown. It's just not profitable for one thing, but also because the quality won't be there. That's a biggie. You just don't sit down one say and say, I'm going to grow grapes and I'm going to do it well without a lot of education. That's the first thing. Secondly, it's the whole winemaking thing. That's a biggie, too.
The problem often is, we don't want to be like California and produce Cabernet and Merlot; our sites won't allow that anyway. I think it's actually a plus that we produce a wide range of wines to please many palates. The problem though with that is, from a media standpoint, is when a winery produces blueberry wine, they [media] don't take them as seriously. It's going to take time, it's going to take education, it's going to take consumer awareness of what goes on. I think the media can definitely play a part in that.
To me, when you really start getting into wine, the beauty of that is, you never can know it all. There's just so much out there to experience. To experience only California wine is like wearing the same pants every day or driving the same car the rest of your life. It's just boring.
Denise Gardner - The most fun I’ve had is getting to know all the wineries. Pennsylvania has such a dynamic group of winemakers, winery staff, and viticulture personnel. There’s so much to learn from them, and I really appreciate their support, insight and knowledge. It’s also a lot of fun to make Pennsylvania consumers aware of the industry. I love hearing stories from Pennsylvania residents when they visit one of their local wineries and feel like they’ve had a wonderful experience. It keeps them going back for more Pennsylvania wine, and opens them up to exploring other wineries in the state.
Anna Katharine Mansfield - Running programs and workshops is always fun- it's nice to interact with industry members one-on-one, and to be successful in collecting and communicating the latest scientific work in ways that make it useful to winemakers.
Chris Gerling - When you think that the information you're providing is hitting a person in way that they are both getting it and enjoying it, that's great. I also just love being a fly on the wall when winemakers are talking about what they do and they're being totally honest about their methods, their opinions, their own strengths and shortcomings, and so forth. When people are being critical of wines but there's not an ounce of tension in the room because no one is taking it personally and everyone's trying to improve and help each other, that's also great. Finally, every once in a while we get sent a wine or told a story about one that is hilarious. Tragedies and the steps taken to salvage them are often entertaining, and since we're not performing open-heart surgery, we can laugh at the outcomes (mostly). Often enough, the crazy abnormality becomes some specialty wine that a winery's customers won't let them discontinue.
NEXT: Part 4: The Extension Guys
Note: Some of Dr. Pavlis’ and Fiola’s quotes were taken from articles written by Paul Vigna in the Patriot-News. Articles can be found at: http://topics.pennlive.com/tag/Joe%20Fiola/index.html
Read to tohere installemnts in THE WINE PROFS series: