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Aussie Inspiration for Oregon Vintners

Research director addresses record crowd at Oregon Wine Industry Symposium

by Jim Gordon
Aussie Inspiration for Oregon Vintners
Sakkie Pretorius, of Australian Wine Research Institute
Eugene, Ore. -- "Our focus is from the consumer backwards to the winemaker and the grapegrower," said the managing director of the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), addressing members of the Oregon wine industry this week in Eugene. On his first visit to the state, Sakkie Pretorious explained to the Oregonians his country's approach to the challenge of global competition.

The South Africa-born Ph.D microbiologist observed that the world wine market suffers from a chronic oversupply of 15% to 20%, primarily from the three top European wine producing countries, France, Italy and Spain. Yet with leadership and technical direction from the 50-year-old AWRI, Australia has grown from a size as small as Oregon today to a business that does AU$5 billion (AU$1 = US$.89) in export sales alone.

His words may have inspired some Oregon vintners to support their own fledgling research and self-help establishment, the OSU Wine Institute. During the three-day Oregon Wine Industry Symposium and trade show, which drew a record attendance of more than 700, pioneer vintner David Adelsheim urged his compatriots to add their pledges to the current tally of $1,175,000 to make the institute a reality. Eighteen wineries, vineyards and foundations have already pledged, and the effort is nearing its goal of $2 million, he said.

The institute is named for Oregon State University in Corvallis, which will house the group, and where the College of Agricultural Sciences has agreed to move existing faculty positions into the institute. The state of Oregon has already pledged its support in the amount of $2.5 million over five years. Three current OSU faculty, Jim Kennedy, James Osborne and Patty Skinkis, will form the institute's core staff. A new institute director is yet to be named, and a position in viticulture research and extension remains to be filled. Three to five new positions are seen for the future.

The OSU Wine Institute is charged with creating a comprehensive viticulture, enology and business program; and with coordinating collaborative research and outreach between faculty in viticulture, enology, business and other disciplines such as botany, plant pathology and bioengineering.

Pretorius explained that the Australian organization is owned by the wine industry, and its charter is to perform research and development work that is transferred directly back to the whole industry. The research results are published for the whole world to see, but Aussies gain a greater advantage from it, he said, because the industry focus there is on quick adoption of innovations. (That, and the fact that a section of their website is password controlled for their "practicioners.")

"We see R & D as a body contact sport," Pretorius said, acknowledging that the prospect of competing with the whole world can be intimidating. "But the size of the bogeyman shrinks considerably when you let in the sunshine of scientific facts."

He repeated one of his favorite quotations about the value of research: "Technology brings progress. The electric light was not developed by the continuous improvement of candles." He believes that when ignorance in an industry goes down, then sales go up.
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