Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fresno State can't keep wine professors

For decades California has had two great wine-teaching universities: UC Davis and Fresno State. Davis is more famous internationally because of its research program, but Fresno State has long been praised as a school with plenty of hands-on winemaking experience for students.

Now, however, Fresno State's Department of Viticulture and Enology is in turmoil.

James Kennedy, who had been chair of the department, left for a job with Constellation Brands last year, and the job has still not been filled though the university says on its website that it's now taking applications.

Kennedy, a California native and expert on tannin chemistry, came from the Australian Wine Research Institute after the previous chair, Robert Wample, left to be a viticulture consultant.

"It is heartbreaking," said a source with knowledge of the situation. "Jim Kennedy was an amazing catch for CSUF, and the regents failed to appreciate and empower him, driving him to the private sector same as his predecessor, Bob Wample."

In February 2015, Kennedy spoke proudly to Wines & Vines about adding grape-quality specialist Dr. Hend Letaief to the faculty. Earlier this year, Letaief also left Fresno State to work for Enartis USA, a private wine lab. Her faculty position has not yet been filled.

The current interim chair of the department, Eric Person, is not even a viticulture and enology professor. Person is an associate professor in chemistry who came to Fresno State from the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory, where he specialized in analyzing evidence from meth labs. This warms my "Breaking Bad" heart, but it's hard to see how that experience translates to winemaking. Of course, with the high profit margin in meth, maybe Fresno State can start offering Methamphetamine Production and Distribution as an undergrad major. Tip: It'll sell better if it's blue.

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  1. It's too bad. It is such a great school and a great place to learn. I am sure things will turn around.

  2. And John Giannini left Fresno earlier this year to take on the winemaker position at Van Ruiten Family Winery in Lodi.

  3. The deans and regents need to admit they know nothing of viticulture or oenology and get the hell out of the way of those with the talent and experience . Carlos Mueller always dreamed of a "School of Viticulture and Oenology" instead of the regent imposed sub-status with which they have always been shackled. Beware the consequences when supervisorial ignorance and ego coincide.