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 2: MAKING WINE. TEACHING. LECTURING.
The responsibilities of a Wine Prof vary from state to state, and from institution to institution. Some are solely researchers and some are pure winemakers/researchers. Bruce Zoecklein explained that the positions have evolved over the years. He used to do much more field work in the early part of his career.
Now he's almost purely teaching and research, though he does make the occasional trip out into field work. Mostly, Bruce spends a lot of time at the lab he’s set up to analyze wines from wineries throughout the state. The lab does testing of wines, analyzing for H, alcohol, and any number of a dozen of calculations, to let winemakers know that their product is stable, and lets them know if there’s any trouble brewing that they might not be aware of. Bruce has a team of students who help him, and who learn on the job, so to speak. His charges get a lot of hands on laboratory work, practical experience while working with one of the most experienced wine profs this side of the Mississippi. Zoecklein also make lots of experimental wines. He and his students are not just making win. They are experimenting with new grapes, testing strains, testing winemaking from different angles – how does a cold soak affect outcome? How do maceration times affect wine quality? Wine quality, stability, and maximizing flavor are all issues that Zoecklein and his staff strive for.
"I have been doing this for about 40 years. I worked for California for a number of years and then at the University of Missouri. I got an offer to come to Virginia in 1985. Possibly the biggest change has been within the land grant system. Early on there was a great amount of emphasis placed on extension services. The emphasis was much more on research. Now the emphasis has become not to visit the farm, but more visit the website and visit the seminar symposium, short courses on a wide variety of subjects. Now there more than 200 wineries in Virginia, and the ability to provide hands on help is limited. Today it’s more about viticulture. It more about special services to the industry. There are no county agents or local agents that deal with vinology, particularly in the last 7 to 10 years," says Zoecklein.
"Our primary obligations are research, extension, teaching, and overseeing an analytical lab service. I have as many as 175 students per semester (that limits how much I can be in the field)," he continued. "There are more changes. Among east coast winemakers there’s much more increased sophistication than before. The winemakers want more resolution. We have more programs that are attended by more seasoned and and knowlagable winemakers as anywhere else in the world. And those programs are also attended by those who are new to this. As the veterans gain more experience, and as the industry has grown, we have a lot of new candidates (winery owners/winemakers) that are relatively inexperienced. There’s a real dichotomy growing there. So we’ve had to create more specialized programs which cater to the higher educated group. In Virginia the geographic diversity is greater too. Before we had two centralized locations - central and northern Virginia. Now we have wineries all over the state. The geography and the climates are very different. So we have to deal with that too."
Gary Pavlis in New Jersey continues to be a hybrid. He is essentially a viticulturalist, but also makes wine. Pavlis works closely with the state’s wine growers to continually improve their fruit. “What I do really is a transfer of knowledge,” he said. “Grape Expectations,” the viticulture oenological symposium Pavlis conducts in March with the Garden State Wine Growers Association, features presentations by experts on diseases, insects, grape varieties, root stocks and more. He also monitors the wine industry, advising the growers on significant trends. And he conducts the statewide competition to select the best wine and fruit wine produced in New Jersey.
Pavlis and his colleagues conduct research at the Rutgers Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center at Cream Ridge in the Freehold area. “We do fungicide efficacy,” Pavlis said. “We’re looking at organic materials to control fungal problems.” Pavlis and Sridhar Polavarapu, an associate extension specialist at Cook College, are investigating ways to control insect problems that plague grapes. They also run workshops throughout the year. But Pavlis also spends a lot of time evaluating wines from around the state, tasting wines, looking for faults, and ways to correct them. He is a longtime wine enthusiast with a 2,000-bottle wine cellar.
Another task involves evaluating grape varieties. One of the most recent varieties evaluated at the Cream Ridge center is the Traminette. “One of its parents was Gewürztraminer, a Vinifera that couldn’t take our winters,” he said. “But Traminette has some Labrusca in it and its grapes are wonderful. It produces a beautiful wine, and now that we have evaluated it, the wineries have picked it up.” Labrusca is a hardy, Concord-type grape strong enough to withstand New Jersey winters.
"The thing is, most of these people did not go to school for enology, “Pavlis says of most regional winemakers. “Let's face it, the California wineries are hiring UC Davis graduates at 60, 70 thousand dollars a year and most of these guys in the East here don't do that,” Pavlis told journalist Paul Vigna of The Patriot-News in Pennsylvania, where he was discussing Pennsylvania wine. “It's more a school of hard knocks, you know. I can tell you Pennsylvania, one of the best things they did recently was to refill the enology position at Penn State [with Denise Gardner]. I can't get that done in Jersey. I make wine, I drink wine, I collect wine, but I'm not trained as an enologist. So if you have a big problem at a winery, often I can tell you what it is, but I can't tell you where you went wrong in the winery. And that's what that enology can do for you."
What does an oenologist do on a day to day basis? Lab work? Wine making? Field work?
Bruce Zoecklein - We have a research winery at Virginia Tech. Most of my research is very vinicultural. We have students making wine under my direction all the time. Usually for very specific studies, of course. Because we are a research winery, we’re different than a commercial winery. We have a lot of replications of treatments of varieties. It works principally the same, but we’ve focused on aroma and flavor. The only difference between us and a commercial winery is that we’re working on grape derived flavor. We don’t work a lot with wood. We don’t want the wine making intrusions of barrels. We make about 20-40 cases of wine a year.
The wines we make are first put through a sensory panel of consumers, who are asked to taste the wines and evaluate them. They are given three wines: two are the same, and one is different. Then we ask the consumers, “Can you tell the difference?” If a consumer can’t tell the difference, then we stop right there. If they can’t, we’ll put it through a trained wine tasting panel. Then we’ll do a round table tasting where we invite wineries to taste as well. We taste our wine and their wines. After they taste our wines, we tell them what our treatments were. We discuss varietals, clonal differences, fruit grown on the west side…practical applied issues.
Anna Katharine Mansfield - Depends on job description! I'm an assistant professor of enology with a research/extension split, so I spend much of the day at my computer- writing grants, writing extension articles for the industry, designing industry workshops, answering calls or e-mails from industry members- or in the lab, directing graduate students in their research (which is generally very applied, and designed to answer industry questions.) Chris and Denise are both 100% extension, so they do less research and lots of outreach- designing shortcourses, answering e-mails and phone calls, etc. My colleagues Gavin Sacks and Ramon Mira de Orduna are enology profs with teaching/research splits, so they teach undergrad and grad classes and do much more research, but don't design or run extension programs, though they often participate in them.
Denise Gardner - As the Penn State Extension Enologist, I’m responsible for creating a link between academic research and the wine industry. I do this through Extension and outreach programs, participate in applied research studies, as well as answer individual quality-based questions for wineries. For example, if a winery has a question on wine quality, they can call and ask me for an answer. If I don’t have an answer, I can usually point them to someone else who does know the answer, or do a little research for them. I also provide several educational programs for the wine industry. Many of these programs are hosted at University Park, but recently I co-hosted a Winery Sanitation workshop with Cornell University in Portland, NY. In the next few months, I’ll be traveling throughout Pennsylvania for our PA Wine Quality Initiative program which focuses on sensory training. Additionally, in the Fall, I’m a part of a multi-state grant program that is evaluating several wine grape varieties for the Mid-Atlantic. Therefore, I’m actively involved in winemaking and juice/wine analysis during the harvest months and through December when malolactic fermentation is completed.
In a winery, the enologist is usually responsible for maintaining all the quality control parameters of individual wines – from grapes to bottle. Many enologists are thoroughly trained in wine analysis, have some wine sensory training, and also have a firm understanding of winemaking and production practices. Although a winemaker will usually make production decisions (i.e. harvest parameters, blending decisions, etc.), the enologist obtains data (i.e. pH, titratable acidity, sugar levels, etc.) from each wine and reports it to the winemaker. Both work hand-in-hand to create a wine and make sure it is of particular quality for future sale. In some wineries, the enologist and the winemaker may be the same person.
Do you make wine? How much? From what varieties? Why?
Denise Gardner - I make wine for research and educational purposes. As I explained, Penn State is a part of a multi-state SCRI grant project. Our part of the project is focusing on grape variety selection for different regions in Pennsylvania. We have about 40 varieties planted at 2 different locations. Last year, in 2011, I fermented about 13 varieties from those 2 research vineyards.
Anna Katharine Mansfield - I don't, but Chris supervises operations of the Vinification and Brewing Lab (V&B), which makes upwards of 250 lots of wine each year. Most of my students will work there to make wines for their research projects. The amount we make and the cultivars used vary based on the project goals. Every year, however, we make wines from the selections developed in Bruce Reisch's breeding program, to assess enological viability of potential new cultivars.
Do you teach classes on a regular basis? Appear at seminars?
Denise Gardner - No, I do not have a regular teaching appointment, but I have participated as a guest lecturer for undergraduate classes in which I taught viticulture and enology-based topics. I do teach for a series of industry workshops and seminars. One of our big industry programs is the Pennsylvania Wine Quality Initiative (WQI), which was developed several years ago by our previous Extension Enologist, Steven Menke. This program focuses on training winemakers and winery personnel to identify wine defects and basic wine sensory attributes (i.e. sweet, sour, bitter, aroma, etc.).
Anna Katharine Mansfield - I don't teach classes, but hold seminars and workshops for the industry. Every year, we hold the Wine Industry Workshop, which is designed to address questions or concerns we've heard across the state. Every third year, the WIW is combined with NYWGF's Viticulture program, so we do the programming in conjunction with their staff. We also hold a variety of workshops both at the Geneva station (the beginning Wine Analysis shortcourse, Advanced Wine Analysis) or around the state (winery sanitation, making wines from new cold-hardy cultivars, etc.) I also oversee the NYS Wine Analytical Lab, which performs lab analyses for all NY wineries at a reduced rate, thanks to subsidies from the NYWGF.
NEXT: Part 3: Housecalls. Travel. Winemaking.
Part 1: The Players