10.28.2011  
 

UC Davis' New Wine Chair Gets Busy

Dr. David Block discusses grape and wine research and staff expansion

 
by Jane Firstenfeld
 
UC Davis David Block
 
Dr. David E. Block took over as chair of UC Davis' viticulture/enology department in July.
Davis, Calif.—During a time of dire cutbacks to public education in California (and elsewhere), the Viticulture & Enology Department at the University of California, Davis continues to prosper and grow. Yesterday, Dr. David E. Block, the new department chair, told Wines & Vines about ongoing research projects and staff expansion. Block, a V & E professor and biochemical engineer, took the helm in July, following Dr. Andrew Waterhouse’s five-year term. 

“It’s an adjustment,” but said he had eased into the administrative role during his three years as vice chair of the department. His own research continues, including “Technology for the Prediction and Prevention of Stuck and Sluggish Wine Fermentations” and “Biological Control of Plant Diseases and Methods for Efficient Process Development.”

Block outlined several current wine-related projects. “For a couple of years, we’ve been looking at sensory and chemical effects of filtration on red and white wines,” he reported. “We started with membrane and pad filters, and this year expanded to cross-flow filtration.  We’re hoping to publish results for red wines in the next couple of months.”

A project funded directly to the department this year by E. & J. Gallo Winery is investigating cap management and factors affecting phenolic extraction. “The exciting part,” he said, is that this project employs both Gallo scientists and UC Davis researchers Roger Boulton, Douglas Adams, Hildegarde Heymann, Andrew Waterhouse and Anita Oberholster, an extension enologist and a recent addition to the faculty.

The department is looking for a new faculty member on the viticulture side, Block said. Applications for the plant systems biologist position were gathered in September, and Block expects to start interviews soon, with the new hire to begin at the start of the next academic year.

The department is taking full advantage of UC Davis’ advanced research winery, which opened earlier this year. “We’re using the capabilities of the new winery,” Block said. “As we speak, 148 of our 154 small fermentors are full, and all should be full by the end of the day.”

In his lab, Block is examining mechanisms for alcohol tolerance in yeast. Another ongoing project, not originally wine-related, has moved into the vineyard in an attempt to use prunings, pomace and other vineyard and winery waste to create fuels.

The department is working to update its website and enhance online communications through social media, with a new Facebook page and Linked-In group.

Where’s Waterhouse?

Meanwhile, Andy Waterhouse is not resting on his laurels during his sabbatical year. Earlier this month, he participated in the fifth annual International Conference on Polyphenols and Health (ICPH) in Barcelona, Spain. Not primarily a wine conference, ICPH included discussions of wine in the context of how it can affect health via polyphenolics, and is “very heavily attended for a specialized meeting,” according to Waterhouse, who was on its scientific committee and a presenter.

“Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects is that the field is moving ‘beyond antioxidants,’” he emailed.  “While the polyphenolics do have antioxidant properties, their major health effects appear to be caused by other mechanisms. These, unfortunately, are not as simple as the antioxidant idea.” Waterhouse will report on new findings in the December 2011 print edition of Wines & Vines.

 

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