Agriculture Science Recognition Awards, Part 1- Megen Morales

Agriculture Science Recognition Awards, Part 1 – Megen Morales

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Assemblyman Jim Patterson joined Dr. Sandra Witte, dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at California State University, Fresno (Fresno State) and Lawrence Salinas, Fresno State’s executive director of Government Relations, at the 23rd Assembly District’s 2016 Agriculture Science Recognition Awards on March 17 at Fresno State.

California Ag Today will highlight each of four Fresno State students in the Fresno State Honoree series, Meghan Loper, Megen Morales, Elizabeth Mosqueda and Nick Wolfenden, who were selected from among several students nominated for their dedication to the future of agriculture in the Central Valley.

“These brilliant students represent the best of the best,” said Assemblyman Patterson. “Their devotion to making a difference in our agriculture science community is to be commended and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.”

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Megen Morales, a senior at Fresno State majoring in enology and chemistry, was honored recently for leading the way in the study of mold in winegrapes. “She’s also helping others in agriculture measure and quantify the amount of mold,” noted Patterson.

After a grapevine-judging contest in high school, Morales knew she wanted to work in the viticulture industry. So for the past three years, she has worked with her enology professors to create a new standard for wineries to follow for the amount of mold that is acceptable in harvested wine grapes. “The current maximum of moldy grapes acceptable in wineries is two percent,” noted Patterson, “but there is no process that accurately determines the level of mold content.” Morales explained, “Right now, you simply look at the grapes and usually determine that it looks like 1.5 to two percent mold.”

“So Megen harvested White Zinfandel Grapes from 15 farms throughout the Central Valley, and brought them back to the lab to study the levels of several types of mold,” noted Patterson. “Morales compiled the data, and her results are now used by large-scale wineries to determine how much mold is in their harvested grapes.”

A member of Central Valley Women for Agriculture (CWA) and a volunteer at the Fresno State Winery, Morales has also helped promote agriculture at Valley Children’s Hospital. As current manager of the laboratory, she trains other students on how to use it.

In fact, Morales has dedicated much of her time to teaching young people about the important role agriculture plays in everyday life. She says her experiences at Fresno State will help her excel in her future as an empowered, humble person, with the skills and mindset to accomplish great things. She hopes to work as an enologist at a major winery and eventually plans to become a senior wine maker. Morales’ ultimate goal is to serve as a role model, a mentor to women in agriculture, and to advocate for agricultural education to preserve the agricultural world of tomorrow.

“My passion started with crop production and it evolved towards viticulture,” noted Morales. “I really enjoyed chemistry in high school. Combining the two fields [agriculture and chemistry] was a challenge, but then I found enology. It has been really exciting learning how to make wine.”

“The winegrape scan spectrum we are developing will enable wineries to scan one sample of grapes coming in and better quantify the amount of mold,” Morales elaborated. “Since wine is filtered before it goes into a bottle, mold has not been a big problem. However, [mold] does affect the sensory impact of wine, so once you get above five percent mold you start to smell a funky, sweet, almost vinegary smell. It doesn’t affect the palate, but it does affect the nose,” she stated.

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The Peril of Smoke Taint on Winegrapes

Wildfires Threaten Smoke Taint on Winegrapes

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

There are at least two dozen major fires burning in the wilderness of California. Many are now contained, while others are only minimally contained. One recent serious fire, known as the “Rocky Fire” in Lake, Yolo, and Colusa counties burned nearly 70,000 acres before firefighters extinguished it last month.

But smoke from that fire may yet cause problems for the wine grape industry in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties. James Kennedy, chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology and director of the Viticulture and Enology Research Center at California State University Fresno, explained the threat of smoke taint on winegrapes. “Anytime you have wildfires near vineyards,” Kennedy said, “there is a concern about how that smoke might become associated with grapes, and as a result, become associated with wine.”

Kennedy said they learned a lot about this problem from the Australian wildfires in 2003 that tainted their wine. Kennedy explained,“grape growers are oftentimes not aware of the extent to which smoke can damage fruit. In a sense, it is a two-edged sword. When wine is made from smoke-tainted grapes, it will have characteristics reminiscent of ‘the morning-after ashtray’ that is quite obnoxious and certainly not desirable. The other side of the sword occurs when smoke compounds interact with the grapevine and grape berries, it is modified by the grapes. Like an iceberg in the ocean, the ice above the water suffers the apparent smoke taint; whereas, the massive chunk underneath the ocean, though not initially as obviously smoke-tainted, reveals obvious taint over time.”

Kennedy said, “Winemakers in Australia realized that while you can treat that initial smoke taint, you don’t resolve the long-term taint problem. We, as an industry, are trying to identify vineyards with smoke taint problems before their fruit is made into wine. By testing grapes in laboratories, we are trying to prevent those wineries from wasting significant investment in converting tainted fruit into tainted wine.”

The Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit trade association reported on its website yesterday, “So far no vineyards or wineries in Napa County have been threatened by any of this season’s wildfires. Most of the time the fires were burning, the smoke blew away from Napa County due to the typically prevailing winds from the southwest. The weekend of August 15/16, we did experience very hot temperatures and a wind shift that caused our air to be hazy and smoky as a result of the many fires burning throughout CA. However, there were no reports of smoke taint affecting Napa Valley wine grapes as a result.”

“Most reports on smoke taint indicate that it exists only after an extended period of close contact with smoke; conditions that have not, to our knowledge, existed within Napa Valley this summer. Furthermore, Napa Valley is known for the highest standards of fine wine production and our winemakers will be paying very close attention to this situation as they harvest grapes for the 2015 vintage.”