Industry Focus

New Winemaking Scholarship Helps Students, Long Island Merlot Industry

By Alex Koeberle

Merliance Wine
LIMA's latest "Merliance" wine release, the only cooperative wine made on Long Island.  Photo by Kelly Tuthill, Martha Clara Vineyards

Future Suffolk County Cornell students will have the opportunity to grow along Long Island’s top Merlot producers, thanks to a new scholarship for viticulture and enology.

The LIMA East End Enology/Viticulture Scholarship and Internship, offered by the Long Island Merlot Alliance (LIMA) will be awarded annually to one Suffolk County student attending Cornell University’s viticulture and enology program.  The scholarship totals $3,500, divided into $1,750 the first year and $1,750 the second year.

Along with the monetary award, scholarship recipients will have a summer internship opportunity to work at member wineries, including Martha Clara Vineyards, Raphael, T’Jara Vineyards, and Wölffer Estate Vineyard.

This internship experience is part of LIMA’s Block Registry Program, which compiles field information on unique characteristics of local merlot vineyard blocks.  Summer interns will be responsible for helping collect field data during the growing season, including which merlot clones and rootstock thrive and how microclimate and soil factors affect merlot growth and expression.  In turn, this will help local winemakers and growers determine what varieties or clones to plant and where and how to manage them in the future.

LIMA, founded in part by Cornell alumnus Richard Olsen-Harbich ‘83, is a non-profit trade organization that educates media, industry, and consumers about the quality of merlot and merlot-based blends produced in the Long Island appellation.

According to LIMA director Amy Zavatto, this scholarship is the first of its kind. “Starting a scholarship was a natural outcropping of helping to foster talent among Suffolk County kids who literally grew up alongside our vines,” said Zavatto. “No one knows our terroir better than us.”

“Not only will they learn about one of our regions most important grape varieties, they will learn about the craft and science of winemaking and grape growing from some of its best producers,” said Zavatto.  

Financial support throughout the school year, coupled with a unique summer internship experience, adds a new component to the notion of the Long Island terroir.  This scholarship aims to provide the academic training and local connections to help Suffolk County Cornell students work within their own industry in the future.

“As someone who grew up on Shelter Island, I am grateful to have that kind of supportive, caring community to grow and thrive in,” said Zavatto.  “This scholarship brings the support and caring borne of a small wine-making region and says to our local kids, you can help shape and lead this industry in the future.”

Starting with a handful of wine producers in the 1970s, the New York State wine industry has experienced tremendous growth to become the third largest wine-producing state in the U.S.  Long Island is an integral part of this expansion.  Given its sandy soils and oceanic climate, Long Island is well suited for merlot, which leads the way as the most widely planted grape variety on Long Island.

“Fostering potential local talent to be part of our New York wine industry ensures that we will keep growing in quality and innovation into the future,” said Zavatto.

The deadline for applications is June 1st, 2016.  Applications and additional information about this scholarship may be requested via limerliance@gmail.com.

Alex Koeberle ’13 is a writer and managing editor for Appellation Cornell