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Student Focus

Viticulture & Enology Senior Capstones Making a Difference for New York

By Marin Cherry

The Class of 2018 Viticulture & Enology majors are pursuing a set of unique, relevant capstone projects that could make a difference in New York State. As of this year, the capstone experience for Viticulture & Enology students was transformed, offering students the opportunity to work in groups on industry and extension projects, or to delve deep into research with a faculty member. With 7 students completing their capstone this year, the Program has been fortunate to field two group project teams and one individual project, all focused on contributing to New York State industries.

While most of the students’ coursework has focused on wine and other traditional beverage fermentations, both of the group teams found themselves out of that realm this semester. One group was tasked with exploring maple sap fermentations, partnered with the Cornell University New York State Wine Analytical Laboratory and the Cornell Maple Program, in pursuit of new value-added maple products.  

Connor Roberson, graduating senior and member of the project team, appreciated working on non-grape fermentations. “Working on alternative fermentations is a great way to really expand your functional knowledge,” said Roberson, “It broadens your ‘tool belt’ and gets you thinking differently”.

“Thinking differently” was an integral part of making any headway on this unique project. The team’s efforts ranged from a deep review of current literature and recent experiments, to trialing fermentations in the Teaching Winery throughout the semester. As Roberson stated, “It balanced research skills and industry relevance in a meaningful way.”

While maple sap was certainly novel for the Stocking Hall Teaching Winery, it was not the only alternative fermentation of the semester. Working with a local industry collaborator, three more seniors were tackling red wine vinegar fermentations on a tight timeline.

Given the goal of drafting an optimized fermentation procedure and examining the financial feasibility of small-scale vinegar production using Finger Lakes wines, the team found themselves applying information from several sources, including courses, prior industry experience, and the expertise of Viticulture & Enology faculty. “It’s great practical mentorship prior to entering industry,” senior and team member Ryan Avery Follensbee stated, “It’s a warm up to the ‘real world’.”

Students on the two project teams also enjoyed the relevance of the projects to industry members in New York State. “The projects are neat, and are at the cutting edge of value-added products,” said Follensbee.

The third project focused on New York’s two most widely planted varieties. As a senior taking the research capstone path, Madison Marshall worked with Dr. Gavin Sacks on “The fermentability of dearomatized Niagara & Concord juices”, culminating in a final presentation at the end of this semester. Her work is part of a larger effort to find more uses for these northeastern grape varieties. “As a New York State grape grower myself, it is really rewarding to be able to contribute,” said Marshall, “It’s great exposure to industry.”

This year’s capstone project participants have certainly been challenged to take their cumulative coursework and knowledge to the next level, while assisting their industry partners. As Follensbee states, “These capstones are indicative of what it means to get a science degree from Cornell University.”

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