Shay Named OWRI Director
University of Florida department chair will be first to hold position
Shay, reached today in Gainesville, Fla., tells Wines & Vines that his first order of business as OWRI’s first director will be traveling around the state to meet Oregon’s grapegrowers and winemakers and learn how OWRI can provide them with the most value. Recognizing that the Oregon wine industry collectively devoted countless hours and financial resources to create OWRI, Shay says, “We don’t want to miss that target. We want to deliver valuable information on a timely basis.”
Indeed, the Oregon wine industry and state government together have raised nearly $2 million to support OWRI for several years. Sonny Ramaswamy, dean of OSU’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, endowed the lion’s share of the salary for the OWRI director position. Shay said he finds it remarkable that the industry was able to fund such a project during the past few years, when economic upheaval has been such a major national issue. That vineyards and wineries were willing to fund the institute at this time is a great signal of support, he says.
According to Ramaswamy, Shay “understands how to connect research and business in large-scale projects that are results-oriented. We are excited about the vision and passion Neil brings to the Oregon Wine Research Institute and to the industry.”
Shay finalized details of his new position with Ramaswamy last week and is eager to mold the direction OWRI will take. His own education includes a bachelor of science degree in zoology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he also earned a master’s in physics and education. He holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Florida, where he graduated in 1990.
Covering the territory
The incoming director cites as one of his key concerns that all Oregon stakeholders feel represented and that their unique needs are being addressed. During his first interview for the director position, for example, Shay and the selection committee spent an afternoon in Dundee, Ore., where some of the state’s first Pinot Noir vines were planted. Short-shoot syndrome is a concern that affects yields in this region, with mite feeding damage believed the primary culprit.
“Problems like (short-shoot syndrome) are instances where the Institute can provide resources and help deliver a solution to the growers,” Shay says. Frequent visits and workshops will be one way to accomplish the goal of serving areas from the Snake River to the Umpqua Valley, but technology will be another key to disseminate information.
All wine, all the time
Another aspect that appeals to Shay about the OWRI position is the ability to research wine and grapes full time. From 2000 until 2005, Shay served as associate professor of biology and nutrition at the University of Notre Dame located in South Bend, Ind., five miles from the Michigan border. Making his home in a viticultural area of Southern Michigan from 2000 until 2007, Shay says he started to become “a more serious oenophile,” getting more involved with wineries and ultimately planting a vinifera vineyard.
In fact, when the University of Florida came calling in search of a department chair (a role he will exit this summer to join OWRI), Shay and his wife were in the process of looking at properties to open a winery of their own.
The opportunity to combine his passions of research and wine were too much to refuse for Shay, whose professional research largely has focused on evaluating the properties of food ingredients related to human health.
“I just hope everybody understands what we’re trying to do is provide value and make the industry as a whole work a little bit better, to help growers and winemakers be a little more profitable, and to figure out how operations can be done a little more economically,” Shay says “If we can help areas develop better business practices or sustainability practices, those are things that we’ll be looking at.”