Monmouth University's vineyard project sparks student interest in fine wine
By Kelly Heyboer/ The Star-Ledger
December 16, 2012 at 8:00 AM, updated December 16, 2012 at 8:06 AM
MONMOUTH COUNTY — The fledgling vines taking root on a hillside
in West Long Branch are small and bare and don’t look like much yet.
But in a few years, their grapes are supposed to make the
first 300 or so bottles of Monmouth University’s own wine.
The project — dubbed the MU Vineyard — was planted this
spring by students at the private college. The rows of vines on the lawn of the
university president’s house are designed to be a living laboratory for science
students. Once the first vintage is ready, campus officials hope art majors
will design the labels and marketing students will help sell the bottles.
Though most college students know more about beer than fine
wine, biology major Mitchell Mickley said his classmates at the 6,500-student
university are excited to see a vineyard taking root on the edge of campus.
"Their faces kind of light up when they hear about
it," said Mickley, 21, a junior from Howell who helped plant the vines.
Pedram Daneshgar, an assistant professor of biology in his
third year at Monmouth, came up for the idea for the vineyard after attending a
conference where he heard that creating a campus-wide project could be used to
teach students across majors.
Wine was the first thing that came to mind, the assistant
"I wanted to do something I thought kids would be
interested in. So, I picked wine growing," Daneshgar said.
Monmouth University President Paul Gaffney offered to let
students use the lawn of Doherty House, the presidential residence, to plant
the vines. The spot was perfect because it is secluded and the gentle slope
will allow water to drain, Daneshgar said.
Because students provided free labor, the university spent
only about $2,000 to buy and plant 100 vines, campus officials said. They
ordered 1-year-old Cayuga White and Chambourcin vines from a New York grower,
because the red and white varieties have been grown successfully in Monmouth
The vineyard is expected to grow more costly in three or
four years when the first grapes are ready to be harvested and made into wine.
University officials hope donors will fund the fermenting and bottling
equipment needed to make the site a full-fledged winery.
Janet Giunco, one of the owners of 4JG’s Orchards and
Vineyards in Colts Neck, thinks their chances are good..
Giunco and her husband, an adjunct professor at Monmouth’s
business school, are serving as consultants on the project. They gave students
a tour of their 40-acre vineyard, a tutorial on the basics of wine making and
advice on which grapes to plant.
Giunco, a member of the Garden State Wine Growers
Association, said she was excited to see students learning about wine
"New Jersey’s wine growing industry has been growing
exponentially," Giunco said, noting the state’s wineries have doubled to
nearly 50 in the last decade. "We need talent to run them and maintain
Monmouth joins several colleges around the country planting
vineyards as teaching tools. Napa Valley College in California and Cornell
University in New York run sizeable vineyards. A group of Oregon community
colleges also broke ground on a $7 million teaching winery a few years ago.
Other schools with wine-making majors, called viticulture
and enology, plant vines for research purposes.
Before approving the vineyard idea, Monmouth University
administrators said they weighed whether it was wise for a school to get into
the alcohol business.
"Part of our messaging to college students is the legal
and responsible use of alcohol. We ought to be modeling that at all
times," said Michael Palladino, dean of Monmouth’s School of Science.
"This is mature, responsible use of alcohol."
The vines are each expected to produce between 8 and 12
pounds of grapes a year. But the Monmouth students have already run into
several challenges. The wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy stripped the vines
of their leaves in October, though the plants did not appear to suffer any
long-term damage. The vines were also infested with Japanese beetles, forcing
students to set traps and remove the insects from the plants by hand.
It remains unclear whether the Jersey Shore campus, located
about a mile from the Atlantic Ocean, is the right environment to grow grapes.
Campus officials said their are lessons to be learned from the experiment, even
if the vineyard fails.
"It’s all part of the learning curve," Palladino
said. "It’s going to be fun for these guys, either way."
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