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.”
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.