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Five Questions for Chrislyn Particka

by Chris Gerling and Tim Martinson

Chrislyn has been extension support specialist with the statewide viticulture extension program at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station since 2012.  She is project manager of the Northern Grapes Project, a multi-state project funded by the USDA’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative, involving 12 cooperating universities in the Midwest and Northeast.  In addition to these responsibilities, she also assists with field research in  vineyard management and related projects with the statewide viticulture extension program.

A version of this article originally appeared in September, 2014 issue of Northern Grapes News, published by the Northern Grapes Project.

1. You have a PhD in Horticulture/Plant Breeding and Genetics and industry experience. What did you do before you came to Cornell?
My career in horticulture started when I was 13 — my family moved from Indiana to northwest Arkansas and purchased a four-acre blueberry farm. We later added blackberries, red raspberries, apples, and Asian pears. Curt Rom (horticulture professor at the University of Arkansas) easily persuaded me to major in horticulture; I earned my BS and MS at Arkansas and then went to Michigan State for my PhD. After finishing my PhD, I took a job with Sakuma Bros. (one of the largest berry growers, processors, and nurseries in Washington State) as their research director.  After five years there, my husband’s job brought us to the Finger Lakes area of New York, and I began my work as Project Manager of the Northern Grapes Project in December, 2011.  

2. What does the Northern Grapes Project Manager do?
The bulk of my job centers on the Northern Grapes Project’s extensive outreach effort. I edit and publish the quarterly Northern Grapes News publication, coordinate and host the Northern Grapes Webinar series, design and update the Northern Grapes Project website, and write the News You Can Use series. I also handle project reporting required by the USDA, and we produce a yearly public progress report to keep cooperators and industry informed about the project.  Finally, I am responsible part of the financial management, and for keeping the lines of communication open among team members – with 30 Co-PIs/collaborators on the project, it can really add up! I also communicate with our Advisory Committee when necessary.  

3. What have you learned about grapes and wine that interested you?
I think that I’ve really come to truly appreciate how intensively managed grapes are. All fruit crops require a lot of management in comparison to, say, soybeans, but grapes require even more time than the berry crops that I have a lot of experience with! As for wine, I’ve learned how many different things can influence the flavor of a wine. One day not long after I started working at Cornell, I joined in on a tour of some of the Finger Lakes wineries, and was treated to a barrel tasting of different Rieslings with Peter Bell, the winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards. One thing we did was to taste wines made with grapes from the same vineyard, but different yeasts. I was (and still quite am) a wine novice, so it was astounding to me to taste the incredible difference in flavor that different yeasts can produce.  

4. Where do you think this experience might take you next?
When I started my PhD program, I figured I’d end up in a tenure-track faculty fruit crops position at a university.  However, after I graduated, I went into industry instead and in the five years I was there, I realized that a tenure-track position really wasn’t for me. While I certainly never thought I’d end up as a grant manager (or even realized that it could be a job), I’ve found that it is a great fit. I really enjoy being back in the university setting, but I don’t have the stress and time requirements that a tenure-track professor does – because I have two young kids, this is pretty ideal. So my hope is that I can make a career out of grant management. I  think it’ll be fun to work on a lot of different big grants like  the  Northern Grapes Project , because I’ll get to learn more  about different areas of agriculture in the process.  

5. In your opinion, what is the most exciting research- based information that will come out of the Northern Grapes Project?
Because I have such a strong personal interest in horticulture, I’m most excited to see the results from the various vineyard management practice studies. I’m interested in seeing which training methods produce the best grapes, and if there’s any continuity among the different locations that are doing these studies. However, like others have said, I’m also excited  about the project as a whole, and the positive impact that  I hope it’ll have on the Northern Grapes industry – I don’t  think the project would be nearly as effective if any of the  parts were removed.

Chris Gerling is enology extension associate in the department of food science, and Tim Martinson is senior extension associate in the section of Horticulture in the School of Integrated Plant Science at Cornell.  Both are housed at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.