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Oregon Institute Narrows the Field

Wine Research Institute interviews finalists for director

by Peter Mitham
Alternative text
One of three interviews for each candidate was held here at the Northwest Viticulture Center in Salem.
Corvallis, Ore. --The final interviews of candidates to lead the Oregon Wine Research Institute wrap up this week, bringing the selection process for a director one step closer to completion.

The long-awaited announcement of a director for the institute should occur by early June, if not late May.

"We've got three candidates who are very good and they're just really different people, they've got different strengths, so I think we've got a good spectrum," Dr. Larry Curtis, associate dean of Oregon State University's Department of Agricultural Sciences, told Wines & Vines. "As we've gone through the process, I really feel good about who we had coming in."

A total of 15 applicants stepped forward as potential candidates to lead the institute. The list was whittled down to five candidates, of which three were selected for this month's interviews. Three interview sessions were scheduled for each of the three finalists, in Salem, Corvallis and Central Point.

The three candidates scheduled for interviews this month include:
  • Terence Bates, a Cornell University viticulturist studying the Lake Erie grape belt;
  • Steven Price, an Oregon wine-industry consultant who worked as a viticulturist with OSU from 1983 until he launched his own consulting firm in 1995; and
  • Christopher Steel, an associate professor in viticulture with the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre at Charles Sturt University in Australia.
Price is being interviewed this week, with the final interview session taking place April 16 at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point.

Search committee members, who include OSU officials and wine industry executives, will deliver evaluations of the three candidates by May 1. The committee will then work together to draft summary evaluations of each candidate's strengths and weaknesses, and forward these to the OSU's interim dean of agricultural sciences by May 8.

The executive committee of the institute's policy board will make a final decision regarding the selection of the director. "I'm hopeful that since they're so different, it will make it easier to decide what sort of person the university and industry want for a director," Curtis said.

Posted last fall, the position will be largely administrative (35%), with significant research (25%), outreach (20%) and fundraising (15%) responsibilities.

Speaking to Wines & Vines last fall, OSU Department of Horticulture head Dr. Anita Azarenko said the growth of Oregon's wine industry has created a need for someone to work with grapegrowers and wineries to determine research requirements and serve as an advocate for industry in the academic arena.

Larry Curtis
Dr. Larry Curtis, associate dean of OSU's Department of Agricultural Sciences, was among those evaluating the top candidates.
"If you have a point-person who can be advocating for specific needs like viticulture and enology and business, there's a higher likelihood that the university, institution, whatever, becomes recognized as a leader. And so this person will be relied on very heavily to secure additional funding, and just expand the program," Azarenko said.

The institute enjoys support of $2 million over five years from industry, as well as $500,000 per year in recurring state funds (pending budget adjustments for the next biennium). In addition, OSU is dedicating four state-funded positions--two viticulturists (one research, one extension), an extension and research enologist, and a viticultural entomologist--to the institute. The support represents a commitment of more than $1.2 million in funding annually.

OSU recently secured research viticulturist Dr. Laurent Deluc, formerly of the University of Nevada-Reno, to fill one of the four positions. Should the university select Steel to head the institute, it would counter the loss of OSU enologist Dr. James Kennedy to Australia's National Wine and Grape Industry Centre earlier this year.

It would also be the second high-profile position in the Northwest filled by former staff from the Australian center.

WSU recently welcomed the center's former director, Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, to Richland, Wash., as director of the university's viticulture and enology program.
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