Virginia Winemakers Group Expands Focus

Group hires research enologist and exchange coordinator

by Linda Jones McKee
Dr. Joy Ting holds a doctorate in applied biology and managed all facets of winemaking at a custom crush facility in Charlottesville, Va.

Charlottesville, Va.—In the four years since three winemakers launched the Virginia Winemakers Research Exchange (VWRE) as a cooperative research program for wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail, the VWRE has grown in both size and scope. On June 1, the VWRE announced it had hired Joy Ting to be its new research enologist and exchange coordinator as the next step forward in its growth.

Ting received her doctorate in applied biology from the Georgia Institute of Technology and also holds a certificate in winemaking from the University of California, Davis. After teaching high school biology for five years, she joined Michael Shaps Wineworks in Charlottesville, Va., as laboratory analyst in 2013. Two years later, she became the winery’s production manager and head enologist. “I managed all aspects of the cellar production and staff and oversaw the day-to-day winemaking as well,” she told Wines & Vines in an interview.

Ting said VVRE has several new goals: to include more education with the research program; to bring more enology support to the wine industry for both ideas and solutions to issues; and to upgrade the reports on experiments so that they are not just sensory but also analyze the results for winemakers in a comprehensive and understandable way.

Eager to introduce more education
“I want to introduce more education into the program. I know the process, the techniques. I want to be on site to help design experiments, to get a feel for and understanding of that winery, and then help with the experiments,” Ting said. “Different regions may have different questions and interests. I have the winemaker’s view of the problems of doing projects, but I also understand the science. If we do duplications of projects, do the results transfer from one winery to the next? Or from one region to other regions?”

Ting continued, “I’m just learning what happens with WVRE. It’s a different season from the winery. The call for proposals goes out in June, then we have to get the proposals in good shape and designed before harvest. I want to help winemakers get ready beforehand so that they can then do the work for the projects during harvest.”

She added she is curious how to improve the depth of the projects. “Are the experiments testing what we think they are, from set-up through implementation and completion?” Ting asked. “Can five or six winemakers do the same experiment and carry the results through to the sensory sessions?”

Ting sent a “request for proposals” email to all Virginia wineries on June 7. All proposals are due by July 2 so that the VWRE board can meet in mid-July to approve projects, based on budget availability. She said she would like to find proposals involving new technical methods or to solve issues more naturally, with less input, so winemakers can make the most out of what the grapes offer.

“I want to tune up the experiments, then plan the tastings. The question is, how do we get good data?” she said. “I want to get to the point where the results are robust enough to write up and share. I’m looking for good applicable information, communicated in a way that people can decide if they want to use those procedures. It takes time and sharing to figure out what to grow and how to make it. Sharing makes everyone become better at what we do.”

Getting from 2014 to here
The VWRE was founded by Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards in Crozet, Kirsty Harmon of Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville and Emily Pelton at Veritas Vineyard & Winery in Afton. All shared a desire to see more research done that would address specific vineyard and winemaking issues in Virginia.

They went to the Monticello Wine Trail and secured a $5,000 grant, then set up 25 collaborative research projects for the 2014 harvest. The VWRE is managed by a board of directors that includes the three founders, as well as Stephen Barnard the winemaker and vineyard manager of Keswick Vineyards in Keswick, winemaker Michael Heny of Ramiiisol Vineyards in Free Union, winemaker Ben Jordan of Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison and Scott Dwyer of Chemeketa Cellars at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon (in 2014 Dwyer was at Pollak Vineyards in Greenwood, Va. and served as the VWRE’s part-time coordinator until 2016).

The results of the research projects in 2014 were presented in four sensory sessions held during the winter and spring months of 2015. That year the Virginia Wine Board (established within the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) awarded a $30,000 grant to the VWRE, which continued to receive funding from the Monticello Wine Trail as well. More than 40 projects were completed in 2015; their results were presented at four sessions in 2016.

The following year, the Virginia Wine Board continued to support the VWRE with the proviso that the research program would extend its services throughout Virginia. Five winemakers were appointed as regional directors to help manage the exchange program, including Lee Hartman of Bluestone Vineyards in Bridgewater the Shenandoah region; Nate Walsh of Walsh Family Wine in Round Hill in the Northern region; Matthieu Finot of King Family Estate in Crozet the Central region; Justin Rose of Rosemont of Virginia in La Crosse in the Southern region; and Matthew Meyers of Williamsburg Winery in the Peninsula region.

During the 2016 harvest, almost 30 wineries conducted more than 65 research projects; ten sensory sessions were held to allow winemakers across the state to taste the experimental wines. A summary of the tasting session at the Virginia Vineyards Association Winter meeting in Feb. 2017 is included in Wines & Vines headline “Virginia Growers Reveal Results of Trials” published online on Feb. 28, 2017. In 2017, 83 research projects were completed and then presented at 11 sessions.


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