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Oregon Wine Institute Caught in 'Culture Clash'

Search for full time director for Oregon Wine Research Institute on hold indefinitely

by Peter Mitham
Bill Nelson Wine America
Bill Nelson, the former executive director of the Oregon Winegrowers Association, reviewed the state's wine research institute.

Corvallis, Ore.—Its programs will continue, but the Oregon Wine Research Institute will be without a full-time director for the foreseeable future as stakeholders hone a vision for the organization.

"We have chosen to not initiate a search now and to have me continue to serve as director while we lay a foundation for future growth and success of the OWRI,” wrote Dr. Bill Boggess, Executive Associate Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University in a recent note to stakeholders. “This time will be devoted to developing a strategic vision for the OWRI guided by our prime directive, focused on research issues of special relevance in all three components of our research mission, and capitalizing on the assets of our three-way industry, University, [USDA Agricultural Research Station] partnership.”

Boggess has overseen the institute since inaugural director Dr. Neil Shay stepped down at the end of June 2012.


Report details division
The decision follows a report by Bill Nelson, the former president of Wine America who served as executive director of the Oregon Winegrowers Association until 1994. OWRI asked Nelson to review the institute this past June, and to prepare a report described to Wines & Vines at the time as, “a basic examination of what different folks are trying to accomplish” via the institute (see Wines & Vines article, “Oregon Wine Institute Mulls Future,” Aug. 8, 2012). “The difficulty is trying to take divergent views and expectations and find the middle ground,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s report, submitted in September and publicly released a month later, praises the research institute’s potential but outlines a distinct division between the university’s and industry’s understanding of the institute and the role each group plays.

“OWRI is clearly owned by OSU. The wine Industry is advisory. There is a real need to clearly explain this situation to industry and to gain acceptance,” Nelson writes. “Many feel because the industry initiated the project it was theirs or at least shared. ... But the reality is that government sees this as an OSU institution. Industry is in a subordinate position to provide advice, collaboration, and support.”

Clash between industry, academics
Confusion over ownership of the institute is compounded by what Nelson describes as a “culture clash” in how the institute should be run. “Many business types felt that top-down direction gets people to do what the bosses want and produce more widgets,” Nelson wrote following interviews with industry. “The challenge facing administrators in an academic environment is to amplify individual talents and strengths and take maximum advantage of the personal creativity, skills, and abilities of the faculty rather than attempting to force results through top down direction.”

Nelson recommended that industry advisors avoid micromanaging the institute and perhaps establish a liaison who could serve as a conduit between the university and its partners in the wine business.

Any future director of the institute should be someone who has “close ties to the wine community, understands the problems and specific issues of agricultural, grape, and wine research ... [and is] a productive leader who continues producing while practicing leadership.”

The position of director is critical enough to the success of the institute that Nelson advocated, “leaving the position of director vacant rather than having the wrong director.”

“The right person is vital,” he said.

In response, the university is not initiating a new search, leaving management of the institute in Boggess’s hands.

“This allows us to capitalize on our renewed momentum and to focus OWRI's resources on building our research capacity and conducting important research projects,” he wrote in the update to stakeholders.

Greater funding for the institute is also being sought through discussions with the OWRI policy board and the Oregon Wine Board, whose members originally raised $2 million in support of the institute. The new strategy will focus on what Boggess describes as, “a legislative strategy to enhance funding for the OWRI.

“We believe that building our research capacity and track record and attracting additional resources will provide a strong foundation for recruiting a director who will lead the OWRI into the future.”

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