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Oregon Wine Institute Mulls Future

Former WineAmerica president brought in to help decide strategies

by Peter Mitham
Bill Nelson Wine America
Bill Nelson will help guide the Oregon Wine Research Institute's future strategy.
Corvallis, Ore.—The future of the Oregon Wine Research Institute is under review, stalling the search for a successor to Neil Shay, who stepped down as the institute’s inaugural director June 30.

“We have not yet initiated a search for a new director. I anticipate that we will be announcing a search this fall,” said Bill Boggess, interim director of the institute and executive associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University.

In the meantime, the institute has engaged Bill Nelson, president of WineAmerica until 2010 and a one-time executive director of the Oregon Winegrowers Association, to review the institute’s direction.

In a memo circulated to institute stakeholders yesterday, Boggess said the university had enlisted Nelson “to engage in conversations with Oregon grapegrowers, wine producers and researchers about the institute and its future.”

Based on his many interviews and his own experience, Bill will recommend strategies to shape a highly effective wine research and outreach enterprise.”

Report guide search for new director
Nelson’s report is expected in September. Its recommendations will likely guide the search for a new director of the institute, though this isn’t its primary purpose.

“It’s a basic examination of what different folks are trying to accomplish with this whole institute, and how to go about it,” Nelson told Wines & Vines, explaining the report he’s developing. “That shapes where we’re going to go.”

While a review of the director’s position was expected, former agricultural sciences dean Sonny Ramaswamy hoped a new director would be in place for the start of the academic year when he spoke with Wines & Vines in April (see “OSU Seeks Wine Research Director.”)

Ramaswamy, who himself left Oregon State at the end of April to direct the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, planned to appoint a search committee prior to leaving for D.C., with the selection process being fast-tracked to ensure continuity at the institute.

“I don’t want us to lose the momentum that we’ve got,” Ramaswamy told Wines & Vines this spring. “We want to catch that wave and move it to the next level.”

Ramaswamy’s concern was well founded. Shay, a former professor and department head of the University of Florida’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, was appointed to the institute in 2010 following two search processes that attracted a wide range of candidates.

An initial search in fall 2008 ended without consensus the following summer (see “Search Continues at Oregon State.”) Three candidates were identified from a total of 15 applicants, but both the university and industry failed to agree on the kind of director required during the final cut.

More than $2 million raised for institute
Oregon State worked with the industry to better define expectations for the director’s position with the guidance of Ramaswamy, who had recently been appointed dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. Ramaswamy gave the position a greater academic orientation, making the associated professorship a tenure-track position that was both attractive to potential candidates and a better use of the more than $2 million the industry raised in support of the institute.

Nelson’s work will further hone the vision for the institute, which he says continues to wrestle toward consensus.

“The difficulty is trying to take divergent views and expectations and find the middle ground,” Nelson said. “Communications have not been perfect … and improving those communications and getting people to sense the middle ground will be helpful.”

Nelson noted that the industry has changed significantly since 1994, when he stepped down as executive director of the Oregon Winegrowers Association to join WineAmerica, and the research institute will help it keep pace.

“Oregon has built a very strong and robust reputation, which it wants to continue building and strengthening and that’s part of why this research institute’s so important,” he said. “I’m hopeful that the in-depth review will help people get more aligned in a more reasonable manner.”

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