By Amanda Garris
Students in Cornell's Enology and Viticulture program have a new course series — Sustainability and Organic Grape and Wine Production — to explore green principles and practices in grape and wine production.
This two-semester course series was developed by Assistant Professor of Viticulture Justine Vanden Heuvel, Enology lecturer Kathy Arnink and Horticulture Professor Ian Merwin. It will focus on critical reading and discussion of a broad range of sustainability topics, from disease management to wastewater treatment, and allow students to experiment with methods for producing organic grapes and wine.
"Internationally, the number of organic grape and wine producers is increasing every year," says Vanden Heuvel. "Many of our students will go on to internships and careers in wine regions where they need to be knowledgeable about these philosophies and practices."
A grant from the Toward Sustainability Foundation enabled the spring 2010 class to plant an organic vineyard at the Cornell Orchards on the Ithaca campus. The orchard features new and older hybrid grape varieties — such as Marquette, Frontenac gris, Marechal Foch, and NY95.0301.01 — whose innate disease resistance and cold hardiness are part of improving sustainability in the vineyard.
"An important aspect of these courses is the integration of viticulture and enology practices," explains Arnink. "Students begin in spring with the design of management plans for the organic vineyard, implement those plans as they work in the vineyard during a summer internship, and produce organic wines from the grapes in the fall."
The course will also teach students to analyze the environmental footprint of the vineyard and winery, including sustainable management of soil nutrition, pests, and diseases, water management and wastewater treatment in the winery, and sustainable packaging and product distribution.
"This is the first undergraduate course in the United States that specifically focuses on sustainability issues and alternative practices in the vineyard and winery," says Merwin. "These will be paramount concerns as our students enter the grape and wine industry, and these courses will provide them with a conceptual and practical understanding of the real challenges of and potential solutions to sustainability."
Amanda Garris is a freelance writer based in Geneva.