THE WINE PROFS SERIES: PART 4 THE EXTENSION GUYS
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 4: THE EXTENSION GUYS
To be clear, it has to be noted that Pavlis and Fiola are technically Extension Guys. That’s not a bad thing or a knock on either side. But Pavlis and Fiola are hybrids. They are truly extension guys, but with vast amounts of winemaking knowledge and experience that advance their calling from true agricultural agent and extension folk to wine industry professionals who are incredibly well informed. They are the first to tell you they are not enologists. But their modesty belies a lot of experience and wisdom. Zoecklein did a lot of extension type work, especially early in his career, but has, as the position itself has evolved, changed his duties drastically. He is an enologist.
So what then differentiates an enologist from an agricultural agent or extension personnel? Good question. Enologists spend most of their time making wine, studying chemistry, and spend a certain amount of time examining how certain vineyard practices affect wine quality and taste. Extension personnel or agricultural agents, spend much more time out in the field. Many are not just dedicated to grapes, but have other responsibilities as well. Most extension personnel who cover grapes, at least on the east coast, also cover other berries as well, i.e. blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc. Rarely do stone fruit guys (apples, peaches) cross over. Fiola and Pavlis have many responsibilities during their day jobs that cover some of these other fruits.
These agents are absolutely invaluable to farmers. These guys just don’t make house calls….it’s their everyday job. While these agents do a lot of lab work, field calls and visits are a regular part of their routine, and they know many farmers in their region on a first name basis.
Again, I’m only highlighting a few people in order to show what the rest of the industry does. And while I might seem to be highlighting a lot of folks from Cornell, there are two things to consider – many of those highlighted travel all around their state as well as travel to other states to lecture, work, etc., and the other is that Cornell has one of the largest grape growing staffs in the country because New York is the third largest grape growing state in the US. As to order?
There is no order after the fact that Mark Chien absolutely goes first.
Mark Chien, Penn State University Agricultural Extension professor, is an excellent example of today’s new breed of extension educator. Mark Chien received his Bachelor of Arts in psychology from his home town school, Amherst College. He became interested in wines and viticulture while traveling and studying in Europe. His studies in the viticulture graduate program at University of California, Davis, included research in the Davis vineyards and the Sierra Foothill Vineyard in Amador County, California. His first job was at Pindar Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island where he became vineyard manager and its first wine maker.
In 1985 he migrated to the Willamette Valley of Oregon to manage a 220-acre farm with 100 acres of wine grapes near Salem. He served on various boards in Oregon, including the research committee of the Oregon Wine Advisory Board. In 1999 he become the wine grape agent for Penn State Cooperative Extension. Based in Lancaster, he serves a 16 county region in Southeast Pennsylvania. Like Pavlis and Fiola, Chien has a varied background, which proves invaluable for vineyard owners and managers. It was a tough call not to include him in the earlier articles, but Denise Gardner is the enologist in Pennsylvania.
Now, you’re probably asking, “With New York and Virginia on the rise, why pick a Pennsylvania guy to start with?” Well, I think there’s a lot to say here. Chien is one of the most respected field agents out there. He’s experienced in the field, and knows a lot about winemaking. But more than anything, Pennsylvania reds have turned a major corner, and that’s huge for a state with well over 100 wineries.
Pennsylvania is the sleeping giant. If Pennsylvania starts producing major quality wines, and all signs point to yes, then it would absolutely help shift focus away from New York and Virginia, upsetting the current order of the day. Site selection, clonal selections, and vineyard practices have definitely improved under Chien’s watch. Enologist Denise Gardner’s recent appearance is a fun and exciting development (and she has been/will be a catalyst for continued improvement), but Chien has shepherded and over seen a major new sea change for the better in quality wine in Pennsylvania. He’s also a constant lecturer, much in demand.
“Wine has been around for a long time. What we think of as wine started in the central Eurasian area about two thousand years ago. You experience that tradition in a great glass of wine, but how do you bridge that chasm between grape and glass? I think the ancient winegrowers faced the same challenges we do today. A grape grower who hopes to make quality wine has a lot to learn. That’s where extension comes in.”
Part of Chien’s role is to educate new and potential growers about what they’re getting into. “The way it usually happens,” he says, “is that somebody comes to me who is very successful in another career—a doctor, lawyer, entrepreneur, every career imaginable other than one having to do with agriculture. If I’m lucky, they’ve at least had a backyard garden. So how do you give that person who’s about to embark on an agricultural endeavor that can cost up to $30,000 an acre just to install even the most remote chance of succeeding?”
“I explain to them that grapevines are amazing plants—very tough, very hardy. Once they’re in the ground they are hard to kill. Anyone can grow a grapevine. But if you want to grow a grapevine with the potential to produce really high-quality wine, then you need to transform yourself into a person who really understands this plant and how to nurture it to produce fine wine grapes. The wine grape is an extremely demanding crop that responds to nuance and subtlety in ways you could never imagine a plant could. And you have to educate yourself to understand that. Nine out of 10 people in this industry are self-taught, and many have been successful beyond my imagination.”
“I am a strong advocate of calibrating the palate in order to gain a sense of relative quality and value not only for one’s own wines, but also the progress of our emerging Eastern North American wine regions. In Pennsylvania, with its diversity of climates and, if you wish, terroir, the comparisons can come from around the globe,” wrote Mark in an article for Wines & Vines. “Given acceptable conditions, the same knowledge and technology is available to the winegrower in Pennsylvania as in the Left Bank, Barolo and the Mosel. The power of viticulture to determine the outcome of wine quality cannot be underestimated. Having a great vineyard site helps, but it is not the only ingredient for great wine. In a recent Wine Spectator article about Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, I was struck by a comment from co-owner Aubert de Villaine, who said that DRC really doesn’t do anything different from other Burgundian estates; its attention to detail sets it apart. Bernard Noblet, cellar master at Romanée-Conti, says he tries to ‘let nature speak in his wines.’ Pinot Noir from great terroir is an unbeatable combination, and they understand how to make it work. There are many lessons here for us. Burgundy, by the way, is a cloudy place.”
In his work with wine grapes, Chien collaborates with other Penn State faculty in horticulture, plant pathology, entomology, and crop and soil sciences. “We have quite a large network of people helping with grapes, even though for many of them it is not part of their formal work assignment,” he says. “Rob Crassweller in horticulture manages the new USDA wine grape variety trials at Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center and Northeast Grape Research Station. Elwin Stewart did outstanding work on trunk diseases that cause vine decline. Jim Travis and his grape pathology team did cutting-edge work on using compost in vineyards and organic viticulture practices and provide outstanding disease-prevention extension services to the industry.”
“The grape-growing community is small,” Brad Knapp of Pinnacle Ridge winery in Pennsylvania says, “and it’s hard to get information about varieties and what works and what doesn’t. We started out with minimal knowledge and we’ve learned a lot through talking to Mark and attending his seminars, as well as talking with other growers and just plain experience.”
Another prominent and well regarded extension agent is Alice Wise, Sr. Resource Educator, Viticulturist, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center. She’s located in Riverhead, NY. The Grape Program addresses both applied research and educational needs of the Long Island wine industry. Information generated will assist vineyard managers in making management decisions that are effective, financially feasible and environmentally sensitive. The educational component communicates results, facilitates the flow of information from NYS Agricultural Experiment Station grape researchers, and helps growers to keep abreast of current and upcoming technology. Alice and her team, which includes program assistants Libby Tarleton, Kerry McLean, and Derrick McDowell, as well as harvest crew Bill Sanok and Tim Whyard, work on things like pest management (insects, animal, and disease pressure). Fruit quality and quantity are another aim. Recent efforts have included Pest Management Recommendations, coordination of grower meetings, support for the local vineyard technical group, newsletters, grower visits, website support, and moderation of a vineyard manager only list serv.
Alice’s most recent efforts have also focused on the development of Sustainable Viticulture guidelines for Long Island conditions, a major step in New York state as well as east coast wine, which came to fruition just at the beginning of this year. This is a major accomplishment. She is also very well liked by the North Fork wine community, and hers is a trusted voice.
"As the Long Island industry has matured, there has been increasing interest in the impact of our practices on our surrounding environment," said Alice Wise, viticulturist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. "A formal program gives credibility to the efforts of growers, and it also reinforces that there is no endpoint in learning and that sustainability is and should be a continuum."
“Based at the Hudson Valley Research Laboratory, I assess the fruit industry's needs and devise research and extension solutions, focusing primarily on the Hudson Valley, Lake Champlain, and Long Island regions.”
Steve covers a lot of ground in the state. Yeah, he covers stone fruit, but I don’t hold that against him. I did originally, but he has kept a good solid focus on grapes and has improved the HV Experimental station and vineyard, with lots of good new data helping valley vineyard managers and farmers on clonal selection, site selection, and vineyard practices. He cycles through lots of the Cornell extension experts through his various grape schools, etc.
“The objective of my research is to work closely with New York`s fruit tree and vine industries, collaborating as much as possible with other researchers within Cornell and surrounding states to help those industries thrive and prosper. Research efforts underway include profitable apple and sweet cherry planting systems, apple rootstock testing, plant growth regulator testing, apple fruit quality improvement, fruit variety testing and evaluation and more.”
“We regularly contribute to extension educators' outreach by providing timely, research-based information. We use a variety of appropriate educational media, such as research publications, conferences, grower workshops, newsletters, videos and web sites. Topics include appropriate and profitable planting systems/rootstock combinations for commercial planting, fruit tree pruning principles and practices, grafting apples to more profitable varieties, fruit quality improvement, growth regulator use for fruit quality improvement, and more.”
Responsible for extension, implementation and applied research programming in Grape IPM (Integrated Pest Management) for New York State and the Lake Erie Region of Pennsylvania. Applied research and implementation projects focus on the integration and transfer of research-based pest management techniques from grape faculty research projects into grower vineyards. Due to the large geographical responsibility of the position and the large number of part-time growers a major objective of the Grape IPM program is to expand the conventional information transfer methods of extension, such as the newsletter, meetings, telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings, to include distance learning tools such as web sites, electronic newsletters, e-mail and web-based publications and diagnostic tools.
Tim is a well respected Extension Guy, and is known not just throughout New York, but in neighboring states as well. Jovial and earnest, Weigel is passionate about his projects, and brings good hard stats and practical applications to the forefront. A very solid, dependable guy. The farmers like him.
Research focus is on alternative management strategies for grape berry moth concentrating on biological control, pest biology and mating disruption. Extension/Outreach focus is on development and implementation of Integrated Pest Management strategies for grapes. Due to the large geographical nature of the grape industry in New York State, one of my areas of focus is on the use of electronic technology in developing distance learning opportunities. This lends itself well to providing basic Vineyard IPM information for new growers in the emerging grape growing areas of New York State.
Hans Walter-Peterson, Cornell Academic Staff, Extension Associate, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE). Peterson is one of the most ubiquitous extension presences in the Finger Lakes. Hans attended the University of California, Davis 2001 where he got his masters, and got his B.A. in Biology, St. Olaf College 1990.
The Finger Lakes Grape Program provides grape growers with research-based information to help improve profitability, product quality, and business sustainability. This is accomplished through a number of varying means of outreach, including direct e-mails, periodic newsletters, conferences, field meetings, and web-based content. The FLGP disseminates this information by variety of means, including printed and electronic communications, field meetings and workshops, and an annual winter conference.
Hans is responsible for numerous programs and operations, including "Grape Listing" website which helps growers market grapes to new buyers; establishing base costs of establishment and production of vinifera grapes; developing web-based materials for growers new to wine grape production; and working on grape extension and industry collaborate for a sustainable future
“My research program focuses on collaborative field research in commercial vineyards, often with other Cornell faculty, addressing practical production issues that impact profitability and quality of grapes and wine. Current and past projects include: 1. Irrigation and foliar nitrogen to reduce atypical aging (ATA) of white wines. 2. Impact of Grapevine Leafroll Virus on fruit maturity. 3. Grape Cane Borer injury and control. 4. Developing a soil health database for vineyards. 5. Impact of clone and soil on flavor characteristics of Riesling… To accomplish this task, I work closely with faculty, regional extension educators, and industry groups in enology and viticulture to provide growers and wineries with educational programs, workshops, newsletters, and applied on-farm research that supports profitable production of grapes, grape products and wine.”
"As the extension viticulturist in the region for about 2 1/2 years now, I’ve been really impressed that so many growers and winemakers around here are always looking for new information and new ideas on how to do a better job in the vineyard and in the cellar," Walter-Peterson told Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief of the New York Cork Report, back in 2009. "I really think this bodes well for the future of the industry in the region. I also really appreciate the fact that there is so much collaboration and sharing of information between members of the industry. While they are certainly competitors in one sense, many of them also recognize that their success lies in the success of the region as a whole. And that’s really fun to be a part of."
Few people talk to as many winery owners, vineyard managers, and winemakers as Tim Martinson. If you need grapes, Tim knows who to call. Questions on pest management, Tim can direct you. He may not always have the answers, but he always knows who does. He's as practical a wine prof that I know of.
"My research focuses on collaborative vineyard trials and surveys in commercial vineyards of NY, addressing sustainable production, soil health, grapevine virus incidence and management, and impact of cultural practices and climate on fruit quality...My program responsibility is to provide extension leadership and applied research in viticulture to support the growth and profitability of the New York Wine and Grape Industry. To accomplish this task, I work closely with Faculty, Regional Extension Educators, and industry groups in Enology and Viticulture to provide growers and wineries with educational programs, workshops, newsletters, and applied on-farm research that supports profitable production of grapes, grape products and wine in New York."
“I recently attended a canopy management workshop at the Virginia Tech research station in Winchester where two of our best viticulturists, Dr. Tony Wolf (VT) and Dr. Alan Lakso (Cornell) discussed the finer points of vine balance, size, capacity and crop load. This is the essence of viticulture,” wrote Mark Chien recently on his webpage. High praise indeed. And he’s not the only one. Tony Wolff is well thought of, and for good reason. While Zoecklein is an industry giant, Wolff is actually the other side of what is actually a dynamic duo.
Wolf got his Ph.D. in Pomology and Viticulture, in 1986, at Cornell University. He received an M.S., in Horticulture, in 1982, at The Pennsylvania State University, and got his BS in Plant Sciences, in 1980, at West Virginia University. He’s also received numerous awards including “Virginia Wine Industry Person of the Year 1997”and “Wine Industry Productivity Award 1998” by Vinifera Wine Growers Association.
Tony Wolf is the Extension Guy at Virginia Tech when he also works with Zoecklein. Wolf travels the state in a way that Zoecklein doesn’t. Again, it’s part of Tony’s job. But if Zoecklein is the professor in the lab, the winemaker so to speak, Wolf is the state’s vineyard manager. Wolf and Zoecklein do it together. Vineyard practices, vineyard establishment, grape selection, crop production and manipulation are all what Wolf is about.
“We looked at varieties from around the world that were grown in areas that had similar growing seasons to what Virginia had to offer,” Wolf told writer Ashley Estes. “Bear in mind that this was a fairly novel grape-growing area in the late 1970s and early 1980s.”
“Based partly on the results of the variety evaluation in Winchester, a number of the varieties that Wolf initially evaluated are now commonly grown in Virginia, including Viognier, Petit Manseng, and Petit Verdot,” reported Ashley.
“Winemakers and growers are interested in a broad range of topics related to grape growing, so we’ve been able to provide the industry with knowledge on what it costs to grow grapes, what the vineyard site limitations are, what varieties should be grown in specific sites, and then how to grow those varieties,” said Wolf. “In addition to our research programs in viticulture and enology, we have a tremendous Extension force that is also helping us here on campus, at some of the off-campus AREC facilities, and also out at the unit offices,” Wolf said. “Our goals are to provide educational resources and to research problems or constraints to further development and profitability of the Virginia wine industry.” He added that Extension specialists and agents offer assistance on everything from winery design and vineyard site evaluation to research-based solutions to specific grape and wine production issues.
“Wolf and Zoecklein said they are optimistic about the growth of Virginia’s wine industry. While Zoecklein hints at a growing trend in the importance of regionalism, Wolf cites the opportunities of a young industry to gain recognition with unique varieties and the industry’s popular ties to agritourism,” wrote Ashley.
“We have to be adaptable. We have to be willing to take some risks in terms of new varieties. Virginia is already a leader in the mid-Atlantic region, and I think the outlook for the future is very bright and very positive,” said Wolf.
William R. Nail
Located at the Department of Forestry and Horticulture at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Nail has led a quiet revolution in the Nutmeg state. Dr. Nail is a horticulturist whose research focuses on the physiology and cultivation of grapevines. He also has experience in the cultivation of other small fruits and nut crops.
He got his Ph.D., in Horticulture at Michigan State University in 2003, with an M.S.in Horticulture from Texas A&M University in 1996. He got his B.M. at Southern Methodist University in 1979. He’s been at the Connecticut station since 2004.
Nail makes the list because of a rash of new wineries that have made great quality wines in Connecticut, and they’re estate stuff! New wineries like Salt Water Farm, Jonathan Edwards, Sunset Meadow, Miranda, and other older wineries like Hopkins, etc., have seen big advances and successes in both white and red wines during Nail’s watch. And Nail publishes consistently.
Dr. Nail has conducted research on the effects of pruning, canopy management, and crop manipulation on yield, fruit quality, and sustainable vine health on wine and juice grapes. He has also examined the effects timing of powdery mildew infection on single leaf and whole vine carbon assimilation, and the effects of infection on vine health in subsequent growing seasons.
His current research includes several studies that are underway to determine best management practices for grapevine cultivation in Connecticut. These involve cultivar and clone selection, pruning and training systems, spacing and trellising systems for new cultivars, cultural manipulation of fruit set, and the effect of high graft unions on vine performance.
“The winegrape industry in Connecticut has been expanding greatly in the last several years. Both the Connecticut Farm Wine Development Council and the Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association have been aggressively promoting the industry as well as encouraging expansion in the number of both wineries and winegrape growers...The winegrape industry in Connecticut is, however, relatively new, so much cultural information has been adapted based on results of trials conducted in nearby states. While pest management guidelines for these areas are fairly adaptable for Connecticut conditions, climactic factors can be different enough to make many cultural practices less applicable. As defined by state regulations (Public Act 04-111 2004), Connecticut Farm Wineries must use a minimum of 25 percent Connecticut-grown fruit. Increased production efficiency is required for the Connecticut wine industry to remain competitive.”
Lorraine P. Berkett
Lorraine P. Berkett is Professor Emerita at Uiniversity of Vermont. Now, I am sure you are asking, “What the hell?! Vermont!” But hear me out. Lorraine P. Berkett might in fact be the most influential person on this list before our life time is over. She is, in the northeast, the leader in cold climate grape production. Her website, which works for anyone working in a cold weather climate, is referenced by people from Albany, New York to Portland, Maine. And the website is as informative as it gets. It’s not flashy or pretty, but it’s functional, operates easily and quickly. It’s no fuss no muss. And with the advent of Lincoln Peak Vineyards, who are a 100% estate winery from grapes, her work is absolutely impressive. With grapes from Minnesota, and from Elmer Swenson, Vermont winemakers see the possibilities of a whole new version of their industry, converting a fruit based industry to a grape based industry. No small feat! Berkett is helping to make it happen.
Berkett’s areas of interest include developing ecologically-sound practices in apple production that will reduce the need for pesticide use. Research areas include developing new integrated pest management techniques to manage diseases, insects and mites. For cold climate grapes she produces newsletter, webinars, teaches courses, and lectures, and runs an experimental vineyard, as well as making field calls.
Cold Climate Grape Production http://pss.uvm.edu/grape/
Jodi Elizabeth Creasap Gee
Jodi Elizabeth Creasap Gee is an Extension Associate at Cornell who gets a nod as the wines from the Niagara and Lake Erie regions gets more and more impressive.
“My focus is on viticulture management practices in the juice and wine grape industry of Western NY. I am committed to excellence in teaching stakeholders the techniques developed by research faculty at Cornell University. I also focus on establishing on-farm research projects with interested and motivated growers within the region. Sustainable viticulture and diversification are important concepts to teach in the Western NY region, which is what I try to do.”
NEXT: Part 5: Wine Teachers
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
Walter-Peterson quote is part of an interview feom New York Cork Report:
Click here to read more installemnts in THE WINE PROFS series: