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Voice of the Vine: fermentation, Vienna exchange, fall grads, Chinese researcher (Jan. 2015)

Posted by | January 29, 2015

New fermentation system expands WSU winemaking research

Winemaking research at Washington State University just got a turbo boost.

Cypress Semiconductor Corp. and Spokane Industries have teamed up to help bring one of the most technologically advanced wine fermentation systems in the world to the Wine Science Center at WSU Tri-Cities, with a generous contribution of $3.2 million toward the $5.3 million fermentation system.

Mark Holst (far left) and Neel Karkhanis (far right), Cypress Semiconductor Corp., setting up the new wine fermentation system with Washington State University staff Richard Larsen (middle left) and Philip Teller (middle right).
Mark Holst (far left) and Neel Karkhanis (far right), Cypress Semiconductor Corp., setting up the new wine fermentation system with Washington State University staff Richard Larsen (middle left) and Philip Teller (middle right).

In 2012, the Economic Development Administration provided a $2.06 million grant to bring the fermentation system to WSU. The grant requires a matching contribution, which has now been provided through the generous support of Cypress and Spokane Industries.

“This fermentation system will be a great benefit to the burgeoning wine industry in the Tri-Cities,” said WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young. “WSU Tri-Cities enthusiastically supports the world-class Washington wine industry in the region and is thankful for the generous contribution from Cypress and Spokane Industries.”

Ron Mittelhammer, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, agrees.

“We are fortunate to be working alongside Washington’s world-class growers and winemakers, and this system brings an incredible technical capability to support teaching, research and extension critical to the industry,” Mittelhammer said.

Cypress, a global leader in semiconductor technologies, developed the proprietary, automated wine fermentation system, which is only the second of its kind (the other is at the University of California Davis). Additionally, Cypress provided 384 60-liter and 20-liter stainless steel research tanks, one press, a tank tipper, and other necessary equipment to make the system complete.

“We want our state-of-the-art research equipment to be at the most important enology and viticulture schools,” said T.J. Rodgers, Cypress president. “In California, that means U.C. Davis. In Washington, that means Washington State.”

A major wine vessel supplier to the Washington wine industry, Spokane Industries has partnered with Cypress to bring this system to WSU and generously provided 192 custom-made stainless steel wine vessels to the Wine Science Center.

“Spokane Industries has the honor of having been a partner in the Washington wine industry for over 30 years,” said Greg Tenold, president of Spokane Industries. “It is truly our pleasure to be able to make this gift to WSU. We are fully supportive of the mission of the Wine Science Center to provide a state-of-the-art facility to spark innovation in the field of wine-focused research.”

The fermentation system is a series of 192 211-liter (52-gallon) sealed stainless steel wine vessels connected by an advanced monitoring system.

Each jacketed vessel can be heated or cooled, enabling precise temperature control. A control panel directs a sugar meter, three temperature sensors for continuous monitoring, and an automated pump that mixes the fermenting wine regularly.

Temperature and sugar data are transmitted wirelessly to a central computer, allowing the winemaker to track multiple fermentation vessels simultaneously.

Spokane Industries highly polished the interiors of the wine vessels to food-grade quality to prevent solids from sticking to them when emptied. This makes for quick cleanout requiring fewer sanitizers and less water, which reduces water consumption and wastewater costs.

“This cutting-edge fermentation system advances WSU winemaking research by leaps and bounds,” said Thomas Henick-Kling, director of the WSU wine science program. “It also offers the unique potential for close collaboration with UC Davis because they use the same system.”

Eight fermentation units were set up at the WSU Irrigated Agricultural Research and Experiment Center in Prosser last fall. The winemaking team received training from Cypress representatives and has conducted three experiments.

The fermentation units in Prosser will be moved to the Wine Science Center in Richland this spring as the rest of the system is installed.

The new fermentation system will be completed by May 2015. The Wine Science Center grand opening is scheduled for early June.

The $3.2 million contribution from Cypress and Spokane Industries is a part of The Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas, which will continue through June 30, 2015, to benefit WSU students, faculty, research and extension programs, and to leverage the university’s impact across the state, nation and world.

For more photos of the fermentation system, please see the album on the Wine Science Center at WSU Tri-Cities Facebook page.

– Erika Holmes

Austrian viticulture students get lessons from WSU professor Keller

Washington State University viticulture professor Markus Keller recently returned from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Universität für Bodenkultur Wien, or BOKU) in Vienna, Austria, where he served as an invited visiting professor during December.

Keller teamed with Astrid Forneck, professor and head of the Division of Viticulture and Pomology, to educate students in the new international master’s program for viticulture, enology and wine economics at BOKU.

Viennese viticulture students during a grapevine pruning field trip to the famous Langenlois district.
Viennese viticulture students during a grapevine pruning field trip to the famous Langenlois district.

Keller lectured about grapevine physiology, participated in related lab work and an all-day field trip, and conducted oral exams. His lectures were open to the public.

Students received a tutorial on seminar presentations from Keller before he then supervised and assessed their presentations. During a student-expert mixer Keller helped organize, he and other scientists delivered oral and poster presentations and discussed current viticulture research topics with the students.

“This was a unique experience for me, especially since the course language was English. Having been raised in Switzerland, teaching mostly Austrian and German students in English was an interesting challenge,” Keller said.

Forneck and her post-doctoral and doctoral students planned future collaborative research projects with Keller, and he participated in a faculty meeting and visited several vineyards and wineries to round out the experience.

In Washington, Keller is the Chateau Ste. Michelle Distinguished Professor of Viticulture at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, where he teaches and does research. He is also author of “The Science of Grapevines: Anatomy and Physiology,” which won the International Organization of Vine and Wine’s award for best viticulture book of the year in 2011. The second edition of this textbook is slated for publication by the Elsevier Academic Press in February 2015.

Keller and his research team focus on interactions between grapevines and their environment, such as the relationship between grape development and water supply during fruit ripening, irrigation and crop load management, yield formation and cold hardiness.

– Erika Holmes

Fall vineyard and wine science graduates prepare for next stage

With Washington being the second largest premium wine producer in the United States, the outlook for Washington State University viticulture and enology graduates is much like the weather during growing season in Washington’s wine country: sunny. Seven new vineyard and wine scientists from WSU are ready to enter the grape and wine industry around the world.

Viticulture and enology education at WSU is a multi-campus experience with courses at the Pullman and Tri-Cities campuses and research opportunities at facilities located throughout Washington.

Students who completed viticulture and enology bachelor’s degrees in December are Roxann Austin, Clint Hepper and Doug Moore (in Pullman) and John Hockersmith, Helena Konstacky and Les Walker (in the Tri-Cities).

Enrique Proano Garcia earned a master’s of soil science, studying possible causes of a disorder affecting Concord grapes when a new vine is replanted where another previously grew (learn more in the July 2013 issue of Voice of the Vine).

While earning his degree, Les Walker researched grapevine viruses with Professor Naidu Rayapati at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser. Walker plans a poster presentation explaining the research findings at the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers annual meeting in February.

“I’m excited to begin working in the wine industry, including in the southern hemisphere while it’s still winter and early spring here,” Walker said. “I have an offer to work at a New Zealand winery for harvest, assuming a work visa comes through in time!”

Roxann Austin’s near-future plans include a spring internship in Argentina wine country and a fall internship in Washington’s wine country.

“Developing a vineyard and winery on my own property in Montana is the ultimate goal,” said Austin. “I’m also looking forward to being involved in the newly established Montana Grape and Wine Association. Being a part of Washington’s wine industry has given me a great foundation.”

Over 27,000 people in Washington hold wine-related jobs, collectively earning $1.17 billion each year, according to the Washington State Wine Commission.

For more information on the WSU viticulture and enology program, visit

– Erika Holmes

Chinese scientist visiting Prosser agriculture research center

Dr. Bo Li, cherry physiologist at the Shandong Institute of Pomology in China
Dr. Bo Li, a visiting scientist from China, will complete viticulture research projects with WSU Professor Markus Keller throughout 2015.

Dr. Bo Li, a cherry physiologist at the Shandong Institute of Pomology in China, has joined the grape research team at the Washington State University Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser on January 5.

During his year as a visiting scientist, Li will learn about wine and juice grape production and research with Professor Markus Keller and his staff and students.

Li, an associate researcher at the Shandong Institute, became interested in visiting after reading papers published by Keller and his research team.

“I have been engaged in cherry research for more than 10 years, but in the area of viticulture, I’m just starting out,” Li said. “I have a strong interest in doing basic research focusing on fruit quality improvement, flower bud freezing resistance, and fruit cracking resistance.”

The Shandong Institute is funding his stay in Washington to broaden his research to include both grapes and cherries. He will participate in Keller’s ongoing viticulture research projects.

– Erika Holmes

Scholarships available for Women in Agriculture Conference, Feb. 21

The CHS Foundation is offering scholarships for women and students who want to attend the fourth annual Women in Agriculture Conference, to be held Saturday, Feb. 21.

The conference helps women farmers learn, network and be inspired. The one-day gathering takes place simultaneously at 28 locations in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska.

Registration fee is $30, or $25 in advance before Feb. 13. Learn about the conference at

To learn about the scholarships, or download a form, visit

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