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Penn State Names Research Viticulturist

Michela Centinari to join Department of Plant Science in 2014

by Linda Jones McKee
michela centinari
Pennsylvania State University appointed Dr. Michela Centinari to the post of research viticulturist.
State College, Pa.—After a search process that lasted more than four years, Pennsylvania State University announced Dec. 9 that Dr. Michela Centinari would be the new research viticulturist in the Department of Plant Science. Her position, which will be 75% research and 25% extension, will be co-funded by the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Program and Penn State.

Dr. Centinari was awarded her Ph.D. in 2008 from the University of Bologna, Italy, where she studied in the Department of Fruit Tree and Woody Plant Sciences. Her doctoral research looked at vineyard cover crops and specifically investigated the methods for measuring cover crop evapotranspiration and the effects of vineyard floor management practices on total vineyard water use. According to Dr. Centinari, her research “was designed to determine the reliability of available methods used to study cover crop water use, to analyze the relationship between vineyard cover crop water use and the climatic factors that drive evaporative demand, and to investigate the effect mowing has on the cover crop in terms of water use.”

For the past three years, Dr. Centinari has been a post-doctoral research scholar in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Her post-doctoral research has focused on the effect of grapevine root-zone management, including root pruning and cover crop competition, in improving fruit composition, wine quality and reducing production cost.

“It’s very exciting to go to Pennsylvania,” Centinari told Wines & Vines. “I’m looking forward to working with Mark Chien and Denise Gardner. I plan to talk with growers and want to discover what are the issues to address. I know a big problem is spring frost that has resulted in a lot of crop loss. I may look into developing a research program to evaluate protection strategies.”

Mark Chien, statewide viticulture extension educator for the Penn State Cooperative Extension, served on the search committee for the research position. Centinari “impressed everyone on the committee during her interview,” Chien stated. “We liked the fact that she has European experience, is interested in cover crops and also that she is familiar with viticulture problems in the East. She gets to start something brand new here: It’s her research program.”

While Pennsylvania grows approximately 12,100 acres of grapes, most of the acreage is planted with juice grapes in Erie County. About 2,500 acres are now planted in wine grapes, primarily in the southeastern region of the state. The state has two AVAs: Lancaster Valley, covering parts of Lancaster and Chester counties west of Philadelphia, Pa., and the Lehigh Valley, including parts of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton and Schuylkill counties from Reading to Allentown, Pa.

Chien hopes that Dr. Centinari will be able to address some of the significant viticultural issues growers face in Pennsylvania, including frost, disease problems and vine maladies such as red blotch disease and grapevine yellows. “She may also be able to conduct some rootstock, clonal and density trials in Pennsylvania,” Chien commented.

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