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Sonoma Native Transfers to Cornell


By Kari Richards and Ian Merwin

Mike Tracy

On an unusually warm day last January, California native Michael Tracy arrived at Cornell as a transfer student from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Once his family departed, the cold and snow were not far behind. But Tracy was unfazed — family skiing trips to Lake Tahoe prepared him for Ithaca winters. And his first trip to a wine cellar? He was much too young to even remember.

"My mother worked at E. & J. Gallo Winery for 18 years," he explained. "There, her close friends offered to babysit me at their home on the Gallo estate, where we'd take walks through the vineyards and winery daily. I was particularly fond of the fast pace and pungent smell of the wine cellar."

His decision to transfer to Cornell was influenced by the program's small size, the balance of theoretical and practical courses, the student winery and vineyards, as well as the prospect of conducting research for the industry himself. As a viticulture and enology major, he has sought opportunities both inside and outside of CALS. In addition to a minor in food science, he is also completing a minor in law and society offered through the Cornell Program on Ethics and Public Life.

This summer Tracy was awarded a Nelson J. Shaulis scholarship for independent vineyard research. With professor of horticulture Alan Lakso, he is evaluating the effects of cluster thinning on crop load and fruit quality in Cabernet Franc and documenting progress through his viticulture and enology internship blog.

Last fall Tracy interned at Kendall Jackson's La Crema Winery in California, his first experience with large production, high-quality winemaking, where he and a co-worker achieved a new personal record — racking over 50,000 gallons of juice in a day. The experience taught him more than winemaking, though. "Strong managerial and problem solving skills are important, too," he noted. "And these are qualities that Cornell is helping me to develop."

After graduation in December 2011, Tracy has an ambitious plan to accelerate and expand his winemaking experience: working two vintages per year by commuting between wineries in the southern and northern hemispheres. After developing a repertoire of diverse winemaking styles, he aspires to be a head winemaker and eventually launch a label of his own.

Kari Richards is the undergraduate coordinator for the Cornell viticulture and enology undergraduate program. Ian Merwin is the Herman M. Cohn Professor of Horticulture Cornell.