By Tim Martinson
Since its inception in 1978, the Nelson J. Shaulis Fund for the Advancement of Viticulture has fostered scientific inquiry into the task of growing grapevines. Guided by an industry committee, it directly supports both education of future viticulture researchers—through scholarships for undergraduate summer research at Cornell—and continuing education in viticulture for the grape industry.
The fund was initiated by the New York Grape Production Research Fund to honor Cornell professor of horticulture Nelson Shaulis's contributions to the industry upon his retirement. The work of Shaulis, professor of viticulture at Cornell from 1944 to 1978, set the stage for yield increases from two to three tons per acre to six to eight. The fund was established with donations from members of the grape industry and the Shaulis estate.
"The industry recognized the value that research had provided to them," said John Brahm, owner and president of Arbor Hill Grapery in Naples, New York, and fund chairman since the early 1980s. "They also realized that grower education and development of future researchers were key to the industry's future."
The fund, now an endowment managed by the university, generates $8,000 to $10,000 per year to support both scholarships and seminars. Since 1980, the Shaulis Symposia have brought international viticulture experts to New York to speak on topics ranging from table grape production systems, vineyard mechanization, canopy management, integrated disease management, and organic grape production. Since 2000, the fund has also sponsored international speakers at each of the four statewide viticulture conferences. And for 2011, the fund is starting to plan—with Dr. Nick Dookoozlian of E. & J. Gallo—a symposium on two decades of advances in canopy management.
Brahm credits past symposia with bringing international expertise to the region as well as hastening the adoption of new production methods in New York, citing the now common use of mechanical crop thinning as one important outcome. In addition, a scholarship program awarded by the fund has supported talented young researchers who have gone on to leadership positions in the industry.
The annual Nelson J. Shaulis summer scholarship provides a stipend to promising undergraduate students at Cornell to participate in independent research projects with Cornell researchers. Since Barbara Frank, granddaughter of Finger Lakes V. vinifera pioneer Konstantin Frank, received the first scholarship in 1979, many Shaulis Scholars have become leaders in the academia and industry, including viticulturist Tony Wolf (Virginia Tech), cold climate grape breeder Peter Hemstad (University of Minnesota ), professor of viticulture Glen Creasy (Lincoln University in New Zealand), and National Grape Cooperative grower relations representative Rob Smith.
During his retirement, Shaulis played an active role in setting the direction for student projects, and now his successors in the enology and viticulture program at Cornell provide mentoring and diverse research opportunities. Cornell's recent establishment of a viticulture and enology undergraduate major has boosted interest in the Shaulis scholarships. This summer, the fund awarded two scholarships for the first time, to Michael Tracy and David Bower for work with horticulture professor Alan Lakso on canopy management in Riesling and Cabernet franc.
Given the growth in Cornell's research and education program, Brahm is ready to grow the endowment. "We haven't added to the fund since the initial contributions from industry and Dr. Shaulis," he said. "I'd like to see the fund generate more income to support more students and projects in the future. Nelson was keenly interested in mentoring students and rigorous research to improve grape production. More resources would allow us to better fulfill the fund's mission."
Timothy Martinson is a senior extension associate in the department of horticulture.