Microbiologist Honored at Eastern Winery Expo

Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Indianan Ellie Butz

by Linda Jones McKee

Honoree Ellie Butz poses with Richard Leahy as she accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lancaster, Pa.—In spite of a nor’easter moving up the Atlantic coast, a near-record breaking crowd of more than 1,060 people attended the seventh Eastern Winery Exposition (EWE) at the Convention Center in Lancaster, Pa. on March 6-8. At the industry celebration dinner held Wednesday evening, the conference presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Ellie Butz, a microbiologist in Indiana who for almost four decades has helped many winemakers across the East improve the quality of their wines.

According to Butz, she was first hired in 1979 by Dr. Robert Beelman, now professor emeritus of food science at Penn State University. He had isolated a malolactic bacteria, known as PSU-1, and then obtained a contract with Tri Bio Laboratories in State College, Pa., to turn it into a commercial product for use by the wine industry. Although Butz knew little about wine at that time, she became the lab’s wine products manager.

Philip Wagner, a grape nursery and winery owner in Maryland who imported many of the first French-hybrid grapes into the U.S., was convinced that the Eastern wine industry needed an analytical laboratory for wine. With Wagner’s encouragement, Butz wrote letters to all the wineries in Pennsylvania asking them each to contribute $100 to get the laboratory started and, in return, they would get $100 worth of lab analyses. The Eastern Wine Analysis Laboratory was started when 15 wineries signed up in support of the lab.

Meanwhile, Butz took Beelman’s wine education course and learned how to do the tests needed by winemakers. "I called Bruce Zoecklein [now professor emeritus of enology at Virginia Tech] to ask questions," Butz told Wines & Vines. "He spent hours on the phone with me talking about testing wines." She made arrangements to sell PSU-1 through Scott Laboratories and Lallemand, and in the process, Steve Scott from Scott Labs and Clayton Cone from Lallemand also became Butz’ mentors in microbiology and laboratory procedures.

Butz’ husband, a research veterinarian at Penn State, found a teaching position at Mississippi State University, and in 1984 the Butz family left Pennsylvania. Coincidentally, Dr. Richard Vine had recently moved to MSU to run the university’s new enology program, and he hired Butz to make research wines and conduct the necessary wine analyses. In 1991 the enology program at MSU closed, and Vine was hired to start a similar program at Purdue University.

The following year, Butz joined Vine at Purdue to conduct lab analyses and teach students laboratory procedures. Upon arrival in Indiana, she learned that he had organized a wine competition and needed her help in running it. In the next 15 years, she and Vine grew the Indy International Wine Competition, and by 2007 the Indy competition was the largest in the country, with 4,000 entries.

As part of her wine "education," Butz joined the Eastern Section of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture in the mid-1980s and then served on the ASEV-ES board of directors for 22 years in different roles, including treasurer, president and executive director. In 2019, she received the merit award from ASEV in recognition of her long career in improving wine quality in the East and in supporting the Eastern Section.

After retiring from Purdue in 2007, Butz became a principal in Vintage Winery Consultants with Vine and continued her work with wineries throughout the East. She now works on a part-time basis as a representative for Lallemand at wine industry trade shows across the East and in California.

Butz and Vine co-authored (with Theresa Browning and Cheri Wagner) a technical text, "Winemaking, From Grape Growing to Marketplace" in 1997. A second edition was updated and published in 2002 with co-author Sally J. Linton.

ASEV-ES auctions raise scholarship money
After the celebration dinner, the American Society for Enology and Viticulture-Eastern Section (ASEV-ES) held a live auction of winemaking equipment, tasting room supplies and wine-related items. According to Renee Threlfall, section administrator for ASEV-ES, the auction raised more than $8,000 in scholarship funds for viticulture and enology students east of the Rocky Mountains. She expects that the silent auction of tasting room, winery and vineyard items will raise an additional $3,500. Last year’s live and silent auctions at EWE contributed to scholarships for nine students at seven universities in both the United States and Canada.

Plans for Eastern Winery Exposition 2019
EWE will return to the convention center in Syracuse, N.Y. from March 19 to 21, 2019, for its eighth annual conference and trade show. For additional information, go to easternwineryexposition.com.

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