Oregon Wine Institute Plans for the Future

Additional vineyard acres at Alpine will be planted for research

by Peter Mitham
Mark Chien of the Oregon Wine Research Institute told Wines & Vines about a plan to add 2 acres of vines at Woodhall Vineyard near Alpine, Ore.
Corvallis, Ore.—Six months after Mark Chien stepped into the role of program coordinator at the Oregon Wine Research Institute, the new shape of the institute is coming into focus.

Chien was appointed to serve as a facilitator for the institute’s activities rather than the director, taking his lead from Oregon Wine Board’s Oregon Wine Industry Standing Committee on Research. The standing committee includes representation from industry and Oregon State University faculty. It is charged with setting the institute’s scientific research priorities (see “Oregon Wine Research Institute Refocuses Efforts”). 

Speaking this week with Wines & Vines, Chien said communications and outreach account for 60% of his responsibilities.

“It’s really trying to make sure that the industry feels engaged with the research that’s going on—not only engaged, but really very intimately informed and familiar, not only with our personnel but what they’re doing,” he said. “We don’t want to do something that nobody cares about, but also we want to do visionary things that we think may be even beyond what the industry is thinking of at any particular moment.”

Vineyard plans
Some initial signs of the newly reinvigorated institute are the preparations to plant an additional 2 acres at the 26-acre Woodhall Vineyard property near Alpine, a 40-minute drive south of Corvallis.

Acquired from the family of Frank Baynes over a 10-year period from 1986 to 1995, the property is currently home to 3.5 acres of vines, including a limited planting of Chardonnay clone 108.

But aside from a rootstock trial, the property has been peripheral to the research activities of Oregon State faculty, in part because of its remote location.

That’s about to change.

“We’re hoping to improve the facility to encourage more use both for research and teaching, and that the industry will feel more engaged with the research vineyard,” said Chien, who was a grower representative on the committee that originally secured the vineyard while he lived in Oregon from 1984 to 1999.

The institute now plans “significant upgrades” and improvements that include a new deer fence, septic field and research and teaching purposes facility.

The new acreage—primarily Pinot Noir—will allow explorations of the relationship between vine spacing and canopy density. “It would hopefully shed some light on the most efficient photosynthetic canopy configuration for achieving optimal fruit maturity,” Chien said.

While remote, the vineyard has the potential to produce top-notch Pinot Noir.

“There have been questions over the years about whether that was a site that was representative of what Oregon can do, and whether it was worth doing research there,” Chien said. But having tasted the wine Matt Compton of Spindrift Cellars in Philomath, Ore., has made from the site during the past decade, Chien is convinced that the vineyard can yield the kind of grapes researchers need.

“There’s some excellent fruit coming off of that vineyard—not just for research but for commercial winemaking,” he said. “The quality of the wines Matt is producing at Spindrift validates the worthiness of the site.”

Research plans for the new block have been proposed by Paul Schreiner of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and OSU associate professor and viticulture extension specialist Patty Skinkis.

Working with the university’s own vineyard rather than those of other growers will enable work that isn’t possible in commercial vineyards, Chien said, and allow researchers to develop long-term programs—something that, regardless of how supportive partners are, is always subject to negotiation. The aim is to give researchers greater control over their subjects, the vines.

The greater control will also require management, and while long-time vineyard manager Scott Robbins is remaining in place, Chien said the research institute’s budget would allow a research manager to be hired.

“It will really be their job to execute the intentions of the researchers,” he said. “That should happen, hopefully, either next year, or the year after.”

Posted on 12.11.2014 - 07:48:41 PST
When Mark is involved, things are going to work out just great! We miss the heck out of him back here in the east.

Peter Bell