A new crop – Viticulture & Enology MPS alumni successes
By Marin Cherry
Each year, Cornell Viticulture and Enology MPS graduates apply their experience to vineyards and fermentation tanks across the United States and abroad.
Designed as a two or three semester, course-based graduate program, the Viticulture and Enology (VIEN) Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree focuses on classroom experiences to accelerate skill building and prepare students for industry-level positions. This degree option is particularly well-suited for students who want to work in the wine and grape industries, but may have a bachelor’s degree in a different field. The VIEN MPS program does not involve a formal research project, however it entails a focused special project as well as firsthand experience in local vineyards or wine production facilities. MPS students may come from a variety of backgrounds, but they all share a common interest in viticulture and enology.
Greg Dlubac ‘16 found the VIEN MPS program to be a promising mechanism to change his career path. Before coming to Cornell, Dlubac worked as an environmental analyst. Interested in transitioning to a professional position in the wine industry, Dlubac was especially drawn to this program at Cornell with its unique setting in the Finger Lakes region.
“The MPS program provided an excellent foundation to enological and viticultural practices, particularly those in a cool climate growing region like the Finger Lakes,” Dlubac said.
According to Daniel Friedenberg ‘16, having access to wineries and vineyards throughout the Finger Lakes provides firsthand examples of the wide range of grape growing and wine production techniques used in the industry.
“I was initially drawn to practical viticultural research in an area where growing grapes is a real challenge,” said Taylor Mattus ‘16. “Cornell is also well-known for being a frontrunner in grape and wine research, so having training from Cornell would help me find an exciting job in viticulture.”
The one-year, course intensive structure is also advantageous for students looking for a quicker transition to the workforce.
“Access to courses and professors from a range of disciplines allows a unique experience for every student. Professors encouraged both personal preferences and also offered professional perspectives,” said Friedenberg. “This allowed for a healthy balance of independence and guidance.”
Students have the flexibility to take courses ranging from grape growing to flavor composition. For example, two popular course electives include Wine & Grapes: Analysis and Composition and Wine & Grape Flavor Chemistry, taught by Gavin Sacks, Associate Professor of Food Science.
“Dr. Sacks’ wine chemistry course provided a deeper understanding of day-to-day wine lab analyses, while the wine flavor course explained a wide scope of bio-chemical reactions in the winemaking processes,” said Friedenberg. “Each course enable students to make well-informed decisions in production while fully understanding the impact on wine.”
In addition to coursework, MPS students must complete a special project for the degree on a topic relevant to their professional interests.
Dlubac’s project, for example, focused on measuring free and molecular sulfur dioxide in the winery. Working with Sacks, Dlubac developed an accessible protocol to measure molecular and free sulfur dioxide while avoiding disturbance to the sulfur dioxide equilibrium, as well as created a web-based tool to complement the protocol and assist winemakers with interpreting their results.
“My most enjoyable experience was working on my MPS project. It allowed me to understand and improve a practical winery challenge,” said Dlubac.
Beyond Cornell’s campus, MPS students have numerous opportunities outside the classroom throughout Ithaca and the greater Finger Lakes wine region. Mattus found a graduate student tasting group to expand his horizons.
“We met monthly for blind tastings and that really helped my palate,” said Mattus. “It was also a ton of fun.”
All three alumni have used the MPS degree to launch into new careers in the wine and grape industries.
Internationally, Friedenberg is now a winemaker for Teperberg 1870 winery in Israel. His time at Cornell provided given him a solid foundation of skills to build upon in the professional setting.
“The hands-on winemaking in the winery, where as students we made our own production decisions, is very important in connecting the theoretical with practical winemaking operations,” said Friedenberg. “The MPS degree has given me the opportunity to work as a winemaker today and has given me tools to further my success in the future.”
On the west coast, Mattus currently works as a viticulturalist for Clark Vineyard Management in Calistoga, California that specializes in custom farm operations for estate wineries and private vineyard owners in Napa and Sonoma counties. His main responsibilities include working with pest management strategy, but according to Mattus, he is also involved with many different aspects of the business from irrigation scheduling to crew management.
“I’m happy with what I am doing now, but in addition to vineyard management, I would enjoy teaching part-time and perhaps pursuing a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. The MPS program served as a great foundation for a career in grape growing, and I believe the research project would help me re-enter academics in the future,” said Mattus.
Back in New York, Dlubac is working in the Hudson Valley as Assistant Winemaker and Production Manager for Millbrook Vineyards and Winery, founded by Cornell alumnus John Dyson '65.
Now as graduates, would they recommend the program to other prospective students?
“I would definitely recommend the MPS program to people who have an interest in pursuing a career in the wine and grape industry,” said Mattus.
“A degree in enology or viticulture is becoming increasingly necessary to be competitive in the industry,” said Dlubac. “The knowledge gained from all of my courses of study is applied daily and is vital for me to be successful in my position.”
Marin Cherry is an undergraduate program coordinator for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Food Science.