Student Focus

Former Chef Pursues Viticulture and Enology at Cornell

STUDENT FOCUS

by Andrea Elmore

Jason Hopwood '14 pursued a viticulture project in Maryland while studying enology at Cornell.

Jason Hopwood ‘14 did not initially pursue a career in the wine industry.  Before coming to Cornell, Hopwood worked in hospitality, as a chef and eventually co-owner of a restaurant.  His interest in wine grew through these experiences until he had the opportunity in 2008 to work a harvest in Sonoma, CA.  This led to a position at an upstart vineyard and winery in his home state of Maryland. 

At this point, Hopwood knew he wanted to remain in the wine industry, but felt he needed more formal education to reach his full potential as a winemaker.  He decided to apply to Cornell and enrolled as a transfer student in Fall 2012.  “I chose Cornell because of the challenging academics, financial aid opportunities, and the proximity to my home in Maryland,” said Hopwood.

Since starting at Cornell, Hopwood has taken full advantage of opportunities to expand his knowledge of viticulture and enology.  All students in the major complete a capstone project their senior year, which is meant to demonstrate their ability to synthesize knowledge gained across different classes.  For his capstone, Hopwood chose a research project focused on canopy management, although his concentration is in enology.

“As a transfer student, I wanted to pursue an "all-around" approach with both viticulture and enology, but found it difficult to enroll in some of the viticulture course offerings due to time and other constraints,” said Hopwood.  “I decided to pursue a research project focused on viticulture as a way to develop this knowledge.”

Mentored by viticulture professor Justine Vanden Heuvel, Hopwood set up canopy management trials on a vineyard in Maryland.  His study explored a technique called pallisage as an alternative to the more traditional practice of mid-season hedging.  Hedging,  also known as ‘shoot-tipping’  is a commonly used way to control vegetative growth in vineyards with a vigorous growth habit.   These are common in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States.  

Pallisage is a shoot positioning technique that involves wrapping vertically-positioned shoots around the top wire, rather than 'shoot-tipping' or hedging.

Typically, growers use mechanical hedgers up to 3 times per season to keep the trellis open and fruit exposed to sunlight and air movement.  With pallisage, shoots are wrapped around the top trellis wire, instead of being trimmed.  This can potentially slow down shoot growth, and allow growers to avoid having to trim off lateral shoots that grow when shoot tips are cut off.   The study also attempted to determine whether fruit composition (soluble solids, pH, titratable acidity) was affected by the two treatments and whether wines produced from the treatments had different sensory properties.

The study resulted in  little difference between the treatment (pallisage) and the control (hedging), although there was a significant difference in titratable acidity measurements between the treatments.  Additionally, no significant difference was found between the treatment and control wines after testing in two sensory panels.

Hopwood though sees promise in these study results.  “Pallisage may offer a more economically sustainable option.  It requires hand labor, but there are savings on tractor time and fuel,” explained Hopwood.  “Additionally, the potential of pallisage to reduce vine size over time may reduce canopy management costs down the road.”

“Jason demonstrated tremendous initiative in establishing and completing this project,” said Vanden Heuvel.  “His focus on accuracy was unparalleled.  As a result, he’s provided the industry with the first numeric indication of how pallisage could impact their vines and wines.”

After he graduates in May, Hopwood will be able to use the hands-on experience and critical thinking skills developed through his project towards a career in the wine industry.  In the short-term, he plans to pursue wine industry work near his home in Maryland, where he lives with his wife and two children.  He also plans to further his career development by obtaining his commercial pesticide applicator license, as well as taking Spanish language courses.

Andrea Elmore is the undergraduate coordinator for the Viticulture and Enology Program at Cornell.