By Amanda Garris
Justine Vanden Heuvel joined the Department of Horticulture in January, 2007. An assistant professor of viticulture with research and teaching responsibilities, she divides her time between Geneva, Ithaca, and vineyards. Formerly a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Cranberry Station, Vanden Heuvel brings to the Cornell Viticulture and Enology Program expertise in crop production as well as whole-plant physiology.
What inspired you to work with grapes?
Growing good grapes is so challenging! There are literally thousands of secondary metabolites that interact to become the flavor and aroma of a wine, and almost everything (soil, nutrition, canopy management, crop load, climate, etc.) will impact how they are expressed. Add to that the fact that there is no single definition of "quality," and grapes are a really fascinating system to work with. I loved working with cranberries as well, but there weren't the same challenges surrounding fruit quality—consumers only cared that they were big and red.
What research contribution are you most proud of so far?
Probably the development of Enhanced Point Quadrat Analysis (EPQA). The original PQA (the tool for characterizing grapevine canopies as described by Richard Smart in Sunlight into Wine) only classified clusters as either fully sun exposed or fully shaded. Together with former Ph.D. student Jim Meyers, we developed new metrics for PQA as well as a system for actually producing cluster exposure maps, so that growers can see what proportion of their clusters are getting a specific amount of sunlight. Jim even developed a free software program that calculates all the metrics and produces the canopy exposure maps when the original PQA data is entered. The software has now been requested by growers and/or researchers both in the U.S. and internationally in 15 countries.
What courses do you teach, and what is your teaching philosophy?
I teach Viticulture and Vineyard Management, and co-teach both Grapes to Wine, and Organic and Sustainable Grape Growing and Winemaking with enologist Kathy Arnink. My general philosophy is to make my courses as "hands-on" as possible. Most of my students seem to appreciate that—even when they are out pruning vines in -20°F weather!
How will your research benefit the grape and wine industry?
My research will guide the development of specific recommendations for sustainably producing wine grapes in a variable climate like NYS. When studying specific production practices, I often include an economic analysis so that growers can determine whether adopting a practice is a financially sound decision. Sometimes producing the highest quality fruit is not an economically sustainable practice.
What's your favorite part of your job?
Touring vineyards and discussing each grower's specific approach. I learn something new every time.