A Message from your former Penn State Viticulture Extension Educator

By: Mark L. Chien, Program Coordinator, Oregon Wine Research Institute

It has been 22 months since I left Pennsylvania and Penn State to become the program coordinator at the Oregon Wine Research Institute.  Some of you may remember that I was a wine grower for 20 years in NY and OR prior to coming to Penn State in 1999.  I recently had the pleasure to attend the Eastern Winery Exposition and to renew connections with friends and colleagues, and many were curious about what I’m doing in Oregon.

First, a few observations from afar… I am very sorry that Penn State has not refilled the vacant viticulture extension position.  While I was certainly not everything to everyone, I think it is important that the grape and wine industries have representation in cooperative extension, whether the focus is on vinifera, or native and hybrid wines.

I am delighted and proud of the work of Denise Gardner and Michela Centinari.  Denise is a major overachiever who provides consistently excellent services and resources to the wineries in the region. In the absence of an extension viticulturist, Michela has her finger in that dike, yet continues to perform valuable research in grape production and physiology.  I hope the wine industry will appreciate and support their efforts. Kathy Kelley is providing marketing knowledge and skills that is unique to any ag science program that I am aware of in the U.S. Bryan Hed and Jody Timer provide valuable applied research from their outpost in Erie.  This small viticulture and enology shop at Penn State reminds me a lot of Oregon in the 80’s when Price and Watson helped drive Oregon to where it stands today.  I continue to be bullish on Pennsylvania wine, which occupies a sweet spot in Eastern viticulture, not too hot, not too cold and outstanding soils, yet much of the best terroir remains to be discovered.

As program coordinator I facilitate the work of institute faculty and provide outreach to the wine industry.  OWRI was created in 2010 by wine industry leaders who envisioned an institute that would foster collaboration among faculty at Oregon State University and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service horticulture unit. Currently, 10 full-time faculty devote significant research and extension effort to grape and wine improvement in Oregon, along with about the same number of associate faculty.  OWRI has a working budget of $1.3M per year, about 3/4ths pay for salaries of faculty and research staff.  The wine industry raised $2M in seed money to create OWRI, and has since lobbied the Oregon legislature for an additional $2.5M for fermentation science research, of which about $500k is assigned to OWRI.  The Oregon Wine Board, which is funded by a $25/ton grape tax, contributes an additional $325k/yr in competitive grant research funds.  OWRI works with the wine industry through the Oregon Wine Standing Committee for Research, which consists of growers and wine makers, industry associations and OWRI representatives.

In January OWRI published its first stakeholder report, which provides a snapshot of viticulture, enology, pathology, entomology and other research performed by our faculty.  OSU Extension and Experiment Station Communications writers and photographers accompanied scientists into their fields and labs and documented a year of research.  It’s a compelling story of the work performed at OWRI to improve grape and wine quality in Oregon.  Much of the research information and extension recommendations may have applicability in the Eastern U.S.  As wine regions, we tend to work within our own silos yet so much can be gained from the efforts of scientists, educators and growers in other areas.

Surprisingly, some people said that they missed my lengthy and verbose newsletters.  I miss writing them.  If you are desperate, you can read about my recent viticulture technical visit to Argentina with colleagues from California.  I was stunned by what we encountered there, including the quality of wine and the higher education system in agriculture.  I encountered a wine industry that has thrived in a challenging economy, and is as vibrant and exciting as any I know.  It’s what Pennsylvania could and should be.

In case you are unaware, Denise has kept the Pennsylvania Wine Grape Network website up and running and there are some items, particularly the Practical Guide to Developing a Commercial Wine Grape Vineyard and other viticulture materials under the Resources and Information Resources tabs.

In retrospect, I wish Vintage 2012 (a proposed $0.10 charge for every gallon of wine sold in PA, would have raised an estimated $2.3M for research and marketing) had become a reality for Pennsylvania wine.  If it had, I have little doubt that I would still be in my office in Lancaster.  It takes vision, patience, persistence, and a good measure of luck to create a wine industry like we have in Oregon, or Argentina, or the Finger Lakes.  If Pennsylvania can weather the current budget crisis, and look forward to which ag industries can do the most to boost the state’s economy and stature, then surely wise leaders will see, taste and understand the value of wine.

Pennsylvania has fantastic people and terroir, and is making great native, hybrid and vinifera wines.  I miss everyone from Erie to the Brandywine, and Endless Mountains to the Allegheny.  It’s a uniquely special place for wine and so much more.  If you ever wander into the upper left hand corner, please come to visit me.  You can reach me at mark.chien@oregonstate.edu or 717.572.3692.

Research and education drive wine quality improvements.  Please support it!

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