Erin Troxell Learns about Winemaking in Germany

STUDENT FOCUS

By Becca Lesser ‘12

Erin Troxell
Erin Troxell leads a tasting session for her host winery during summer 2009.

As a 6-year-old, Erin Troxell—now a senior Cornell Viticulture and Enology (VIEN) major—first discovered her love for viticulture while trailing her mother down the rows of her family's Pennsylvania vineyard. Troxell learned to spot signs of disease in grapevines and observed the winemaking process alongside her parents.

This past summer, she received a new form of education, producing Spätburgunder and Sauvignon Blanc under the watch of a fourth-generation winemaking family in Nahe, one of Germany's famed Riesling regions. The internship, funded in part by a $4,000 scholarship from the CALS Alumni Association, introduced Troxell to German techniques for tending to cool-climate grapes.

"One of the main themes I have observed in their wine industry is efficiency," Troxell said. "Because there are so many wineries, generating a great deal of competition, winery owners have adapted practices to reduce the amount of effort that they require."

Troxell added that rather than thinning grape clusters by hand, German growers often use mechanical and chemical approaches to adjust crop size and improve grape quality.

Alongside a wine consultant in an enology lab, Troxell learned how Germans analyze the chemical and sensory traits of wines. She also learned about the difficulties of growing grapes on inclines and steep slopes—not unlike the terrain in upstate New York.

"I think it's important to travel to different winegrowing regions and gain exposure to as much of what others in the profession are doing as possible," she said. "The practical knowledge that is gained through internships in grape growing and winemaking makes these experiences essential for a well-rounded education."

Troxell entered Cornell as a Plant Sciences major with a concentration in viticulture before the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences designated its new VIEN major in Fall 2008. She said the internship built upon her agriculture experience as a research assistant to Ian Merwin, the Herman M. Cohn Professor of Horticulture, in the Cornell orchards and vineyards. She is on track to graduate in spring 2010 as a part of Cornell's second class of VIEN students.

After graduation, Troxell intends to return to Europe, perhaps working in another region, such as Austria or Switzerland. She hopes to eventually work at her family's vineyard, and dreams of possibly one day running her own winery.