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Student Focus

Cornell Viticulture & Enology students aim for precision and speed in pruning competition

Cornell Viticulture and Enology program student Zack Waltz pruning a grape vine.
Cornell Viticulture and Enology student Zach Waltz prunes a vine during the Felco East Pruning Competition in February 2019. Photo courtesy of Anthony Road Winery.

By Marin Cherry

This February, Cornell Viticulture & Enology students braved the elements to get hands-on alongside industry experts during the inaugural Felco East Pruning Competition.

Organized by Russell Moss, lecturer and instructor of viticulture at Cornell University, and Ryan Amberg, a manager for Felco US, the competition offered our V&E majors an opportunity to connect with other students and industry members in a completely new way.

The seventeen students enrolled in Moss's course, VIEN 2620: Spring Vineyard Practicum, attended, and several participated in the event as competitors. Students from Finger Lakes Community College and Alfred State College joined our Cornelians and individuals from five different vineyards in New York and Pennsylvania to compete against each other in a show of precision and speed.

Participants were assigned a number to ensure blind judging, and given eight vines to prune as quickly as possible, after receiving instruction on how the vineyard manager wanted the vines pruned.

“Everyone was in one category, students and industry,” Russell Moss stated, “Our students did well, with a really great attention to detail.” Cornell students came to the competition with a range of experience across both graduate and undergraduate degree programs. “For some students, these are the first vines they’ve ever pruned, and other students have significantly more experience, but everyone seemed to enjoy it,” according to Moss.

Heather Boocks, sophomore V&E major, appreciated the added element of some friendly competition during class time: “I appreciated the chance to get more experience pruning, and the competition aspect added some excitement.” Boocks also appreciated the speed of the experienced competitors, “I was so impressed by how early people finished pruning eight vines!”

Competition organizers hope to offer the Felco East Pruning Competition on an annual basis, to continue to build relationships and offer students the opportunity to learn from the region’s best. Boocks certainly looks forward to it – “I would definitely compete again in the future, hopefully I will be a little bit faster by then!”

Marin Cherry ('15 AEM) is undergraduate coordinator for the Cornell viticulture and enology program.