Search Continues at Oregon State

Wine research position is still open as university and industry try to refocus

by Peter Mitham
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The arrival of Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy as dean of OSU's agricultural sciences department is hoped to help the search team refocus its efforts.
Corvallis, Ore.--The quest for a director to lead the Oregon Wine Research Institute is back on the drawing board after industry failed to offer clear support for any one of the three finalists interviewed for the position in April. "None of the candidates interviewed received a clear consensus of support from the Oregon wine industry," Larry Curtis, associate dean in Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences told Wines & Vines this week. "The search was closed and discussions will begin again this Friday (June 19) about redefining the position description."

Curtis said industry's inability to select one of the three finalists reflects a need for industry to hone its expectations for the director's position.

"This is in no way a negative reflection upon the excellent pool of scientists that interviewed for the position," he said. "It is recognition of a need for more in-depth discussions within the Oregon wine industry, and between the industry and Oregon State University."

David Adelsheim, president of Adelsheim Vineyards in Newberg and a director of the Oregon Wine Board, worked with former OSU agricultural sciences dean Dr. Thayne Dutson as part of an ad hoc committee that helped shape a vision for the new institute. He agreed with Curtis' assessment, noting that Dutson's retirement in 2008 and the industry focus on raising funds for the institute meant there was less communication than might have been ideal going into the search process.

"What the search brought out, sadly, was the lack of detailed agreement as to what we were seeking. Neither was the industry unified, nor even was OSU," he said. "I think it illustrated how much work we had to do."

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David Adelsheim, president of Adelsheim Vineyards and a director of the Oregon Wine Board, participated in the executive search.
Originally advertised in fall 2008, the position was largely administrative (35%) but with significant research (25%), outreach (20%) and fundraising (15%) responsibilities. The director was meant to serve as an industry advocate within the academy, establishing research priorities reflecting the needs of winemakers and growers while spearheading fundraising for the institute.

A total of 15 applicants stepped forward, three of whom were selected for a final round of interviews in April. The finalists included Dr. Terence Bates, a Cornell University viticulturist studying the Lake Erie grape belt; Dr. 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 Dr. Christopher Steel, an associate professor in viticulture with the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre at Charles Sturt University in Australia.

The candidates visited Oregon's various grapegrowing regions during the three-week series of interviews, which were held at Salem, Corvallis and Central Point. The interviews wrapped up on April 16 and the search committee, representing both OSU and industry, provided evaluations by May 8. Results of the selection process were expected by early June.

Adelsheim hopes the appointment of Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy as OSU's dean of agricultural sciences effective Aug. 1, 2009, will help OSU and the industry determine where a new search process should lead. Ramaswamy is currently director of agricultural research programs and associate dean of the College of Agriculture at Purdue University in Indiana, and will bring his experience with the Indiana wine industry to Oregon State. He will be present at the meeting this Friday.

"We're obviously looking to Sonny to provide leadership, and from everything that I've heard about him, he will do so," Adelsheim said.
Meanwhile, potential cuts by Oregon lawmakers to the state's budget for the next two years also stand to affect the institute's development.

The institute enjoys a commitment of $2 million over five years from Oregon winemakers and grapegrowers, but the majority of its annual budget depends on recurring state funds. Those were budgeted to total about $500,000 annually, but OSU is bracing for cuts of up to 30% in state funding for extension and research work over the next two years.

Significant reductions in the university's research capacity would follow if the Oregon lawmakers make the cuts, restricting establishment of the wine institute.
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