By Kari Richards
As a summer intern at the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center (LIHREC) in Riverhead, N.Y., senior DeAnna D'Attilio is covering a lot of ground, from data collection to travel across Long Island's wine grape community.
One of ten CALS students in Cornell Cooperative Extension's summer internship program, D'Attilio took charge of a project entitled Under-vine groundcovers to reduce herbicide use and vine vigor in vinifera wine grapes under the direction of Alice Wise, senior resource educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and director of the Long Island Viticulture Extension Program housed at LIHREC.
"My internship at LIHREC has been an amazing opportunity," said D'Attilio. "I have learned about managing vineyards during the growing season, while improving my skills inresearch, observation, and communicating with growers."
D'Attilio has put her extension skills to work as a contributor to the Long Island Fruit and Vegetable Update produced by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.
"Growers really enjoyed reading a different viewpoint and D'Attilio's intellectual discussion of leaf removal and véraison," said Alice Wise. "She has impressed us with her enthusiasm and dedication. She has done very well with the physical side of vineyard management and sees the connections between the job and her education. I foresee great things in her future."
While D'Attilio's main focus is the project comparing vine growth with bare soil under the trellis to other cover crops such as clover and grasses, her day to day duties also include maintaining a variety trial of 36 wine grape varieties and an experiment on pest management that pits a "standard" spray schedule against a low impact and organic systems.
A Connecticut native, she initially studied plant science with focus on plant pathology. Her interest in grapes and wine came after enrolling in Cornell's introductory "Wines and Vines" course in the spring of her junior year.
"It was one of the best decisions I ever made," she said. "I declared a double major shortly after."
Like many graduates of Cornell's program, D'Attilio has the travel bug and is equally interested in working in the vineyards of Argentina and applying to graduate school for viticulture research.
"Viticulture is applied plant science with so many different elements," she said. "Over the past three years, I have discovered an interest in plant pathology and plant physiology. Being a viticulture student opens doors to both fields."
D'Attilio hasn't had much down time outside of the classroom. In her first two years, she worked on potato blight for Cornell's department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Interactions. Summers were equally packed, including work at a wholesale plant nursery, research rotations in soil, tissue culture, and pathology labs, and experimental design for tests of growth regulators on landscape plants.
Her advice to students is based on her success in finding diverse work experiences.
"I wish I had discovered the major earlier," she said. "There are many amazing professors in the program, and I would have loved to work for any one of them."
Whether research or working in the vineyard, she has concluded that the most important components of viticulture can only be taught through hands-on experience.
More information about D'Attilio's summer is reported in her blog.
Kari Richards is the undergraduate coordinator for the Cornell viticulture and enology undergraduate program.