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5 Questions for Anna Katharine Mansfield

By Amanda Garris, USDA-ARS, and Hans Walter-Peterson, Extension Associate, Cornell Cooperative Extension's Finger Lakes Grape Program

Anna Katharine Mansfield

Anna Katharine Mansfield joined the Department of Food Science and Technology at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in January 2009. An assistant professor of enology with research and extension responsibilities, she provides statewide leadership in enology extension and researches wine quality and production efficiency. Formerly a researcher at the University of Minnesota, Mansfield brings to the Cornell Viticulture and Enology program complementary expertise in wine flavor chemistry, sensory evaluation, and winemaking with new, cold-hardy grape varieties.

How did you become interested in enology, and what path led you to Cornell?

I was an English major as an undergraduate at Salem College in North Carolina. My degree required an internship in another discipline, and during my internship in a winery in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina I realized that I loved the work. After a few years at the Biltmore Estate winery in Asheville, N.C., I went to Virginia Tech for an M.S. in food science, focusing on wine flavor attributes. This led to a job as the first Enology Project Leader at the University of Minnesota, where I developed an extension program to serve their growing cold-climate wine industry and became very familiar with cold-hardy wine grape cultivars. I also worked on a Ph.D. part time, focusing on wine flavor chemistry and sensory characterization. When I completed that degree in 2008, I was excited to have the chance to return to the East Coast and work in another interesting and variable wine region.

What is your vision for your position within the enology program?

In the new, expanded enology program at Cornell, I'm often called "the new Thomas," and it's true to some extent: Like Thomas Henick-Kling, I have both extension and research duties. I'll collaborate with Chris Gerling in providing technical support to wineries and planning educational programs. I've spent most of the past eight years working with brand new, cold-hardy wine grapes. I'm a good resource person for the newer wine regions developing in northern New York, but I also have experience working with smaller wineries in general, and am familiar with some of the challenges they face.

In addition, I will also advise graduate students and develop a research program to address applied research problems. Unlike my colleagues Ramón Mira de Orduna and Gavin Sacks, who focus respectively on wine microbiology and wine chemistry, my lab will be involved primarily in short-term projects to answer pressing industry questions that might not be suitable for longer-term studies. For example, I see a need in NY to look at some basic quality issues and characterization questions- how yeast assimilable nitrogen (YAN) varies in various parts of the state, how we can grow or process wine grapes to optimize phenolic profiles, and how regional differences affect wine sensory profiles. There are a lot of interesting questions still waiting to be answered.

What research areas are you currently pursuing?

Right now, I have a grad student working on a comparative sensory study of Rieslings grown in various microclimates in the Finger Lakes; it was partially funded by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, and I hope it will help the region start to define what differentiates a Finger Lakes Riesling from other great Rieslings of the world. Prompted by industry members, I have another grad student working to optimize tannin addition protocol for low tannin reds; 2009 was a perfect year for that project! We received funding from the New York Farm Viability Institute for that work and will extend the project next year with expanded winery trials. I'm currently working with colleagues from other universities to put together multi-state grants to look at various parameters of interest—how to optimize white wine processing to improve sensory profiles—for instance, reduce bitterness—and how phenolic profiles are implicated in that. Some of the YAN data we saw in samples collected for the Veraison to Harvest newsletter this year is intriguing, and I would like to look at that more closely—track variability from year to year and cultivar to cultivar, for instance, and see if we can link vineyard practices more closely to yeast nutrient issues. The biggest driver, of course, is industry interest, so I hope to keep communicating with winery owners, and continue to focus on projects that will positively impact the New York wine industry.

Both you and Chris Gerling have enology extension responsibilities. How do you distinguish those responsibilities between your positions?

Thus far, we've found that things sort out naturally. Both of us have academic and practical experience in winemaking issues, but our areas of specialty differ. Also, since my appointment is only 60 percent extension compared to Chris' 100 percent, he tends to answer more phone calls and make more visits. We work together, however, to plan many of the workshops and other educational meetings and are putting together some joint grants, as well.

Has anything about the grape and wine industry in New York surprised you?

This year, I was astounded to see Rieslings with titratable acidities TA's that reminded me strongly of the high-sugar, high-acid hybrids we were working with in Minnesota. It's been quite a year! Beyond that, I was surprised to find a broad range of expertise in New York. After coming from Minnesota, where nearly everyone is new to the industry, I expected that the New York industry would have less need for extension help as an established wine region. It's been fun to work both with all the new wineries that are still opening in the state, and with some of the more established producers who have more challenging questions, issues that I haven't had a chance to tackle in a smaller region. Furthermore, I have been very pleasantly surprised to see how open the industry is, how people work together and cooperate, and how welcoming they have been to me. That varies from region to region, and I was pleased to see the camaraderie that exists here.

This article was adapted from an interview published in the Finger Lakes Vineyard Notes by Hans Walter-Peterson.