New Chair Sought for Fresno State’s VERC

Viticulture Enology Research Center Seeks New Chair

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California Ag Today met with Dave Zoldoske, director of the Center of Irrigation and Technology and California Water Institute at Fresno State, about finding a chair for the VERC, the Viticulture Enology Research Center. This single position has many titles within it.

“You’re the department chair, faculty member, research director and a researcher. You think you’re busy – try to do those four jobs,” Zoldoske said.

With all of these responsibilities, one person would get stretched too thin in some places and excel in others. Eventually, the job was split in half to lighten the load. The position is now a research director’s position in enology and viticulture and does not require a PhD.

“A master’s with obviously some extensive research experience in the industry would be necessary to lead that,” Zoldoske said.

This is an opportunity for someone that is interested particularly in San Joaquin Valley viticulture because of the different variety of grapes. Many of the trellises are different, and the level of mechanization is much higher. Everything that plays a part for the San Joaquin Valley wine growers would be a focus point for this position.

“Certainly just because of our geographic location, that would be a big part of what that research portfolio might involve,” Zoldoske said.

This prestigious position is geared for somebody who wants to work in the wine industry as a research leader. This position offers growth within its own program.

“You are sort of untethered in the sense that [you can] make it everything you can make it, and just with this regional identity, right?” Zoldoske said.

Many major wineries located in the San Joaquin Valley are supportive of the Viticulture Enology Program at Fresno State and also serve on the advisory board.

“I think there’s just a lot of ups to this job and we’re real excited that it’s been split in half, so that we’ve got a pure researcher and then we’ve got someone on the other side that’ll be more academic with the department chair position and help with the teaching and other things,” Zoldoske said.

Winegrape Grower Earns SIP Certification

Dana Merrill, Winegrape Grower Earns SIP Certification

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor


Dana Merrill is a seventh-generation farmer of an eighth-generation Californian farming family and president of Mesa Vineyard Management, a premium vineyard management service on the Central Coast. A graduate from Cal Poly with an Agriculture Business degree, He is a member of the Merrill Family Estates, an estate that produces premium winegrapes for its Pomar Junction Winery, and he’s extremely involved with the Paso Robles Wine Community.

Recently, his winegrape growing operation earned the Sustainability In Practice (SIP) certification.

“We worked very hard to attain this certification,” Merrill said. “Most of the changes were positive moves. It’s not meant to be a penalizing certification, but there are specific restrictions. For example, we don’t use any Class I restricted materials. If the US Environmental Protection Agency has commented about a substance, ‘Hey, that is Class I. It may be legal, but as an herbicide, it has a tendency to leach into the groundwater,’ then the SIP system won’t allow it. There are times when I’ve said, ‘Boy, I wish I could use a certain material,’ but there are some I simply cannot use in order to qualify for the certification.”SIP Certified

Merrill continues, “The SIP also takes into account how you treat your labor. For example, more ‘points’ are awarded if you offer a benefit program, continuing education support, a retirement program, or health insurance. These days, everybody has to offer health insurance, but points are awarded for that, even though some of us have offered it for over 20 years. Points are also earned for best-practice management whether it is fertility management, soil probes, or having water meters on all your wells and using the information to manage how you irrigate. The idea is to encourage folks to do more and raise the bar.”

“Being SIP-certified helps with marketing too,” noted Merrill. “If you get the SIP seal on a bottle of wine, a consumer can go be assured of the excellent quality of that product.”

“It is marketing in the sense that we are always selling ourselves to the consumer,” Merrill explained. “You know, the consumer may ask, ‘Why should I buy a bottle of SIP wine? Why should I buy California wine?’ I think that branding or labeling conveys a message to customers about what is important to them. Some consumers are very environment-oriented; others are looking primarily for quality. Your label conveys that message. There are customers to whom it is less important, but I see its significance growing. I would say 50% of the people who visit our tasting room find that label on an SIP-certified bottle of wine quite meaningful,” Merrill said.



Mesa Vineyard Management

Sustainability In Practice (SIP)

US Environmental Protection Agency