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State enologist teaches others the science of crafting wine | TribLIVE.com
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State enologist teaches others the science of crafting wine

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Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
David Popp (left), a wine and grape growing consultant in Ohio, and Alex Shields, assistant winemaker at Shields Demesne Winery in Spraggs, PA, plate samples to test for bacterias associated with wine production during a recent workshop held at the main campus at Penn State for part of a Penn State Extension program which offered education lectures and labs on enology (wine) and viticulture (grape growing) for Pennsylvania wineries and vineyards.
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Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Extension Enologist Denise Gardner, looks over pure cultures of yeast and bacteria associated with wine production, with Barry St. Pierre, a winemaker from Connecticut, during a recent workshop at the main campus at Penn State for part of a Penn State Extension program which offered education lectures and labs on enology (wine) and viticulture (grape growing) for Pennsylvania wineries and vineyards.
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Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Barry St. Pierre (front), a winemaker from Connecticut, and extension enologist Denise Gardner (back), look over pure cultures of yeast and bacteria associated with wine production during a recent workshop held at the main campus at Penn State for part of a Penn State Extension program which offered education lectures and labs on enology (wine) and viticulture (grape growing) for Pennsylvania wineries and vineyards.
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Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Barry St. Pierre, a winemaker from Connecticut, uses a microscope to look over yeast samples associated with wine production during a recent workshop held at the main campus at Penn State for part of a Penn State Extension program which offered education lectures and labs on enology (wine) and viticulture (grape growing) for Pennsylvania wineries and vineyards.
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Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
David Popp (left), a wine and grape growing consultant in Ohio, plate samples to test for bacterias associated with wine production during a recent workshop held at the main campus at Penn State for part of a Penn State Extension program which offered education lectures and labs on enology (wine) and viticulture (grape-growing) for Pennsylvania wineries and vineyards.
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Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Robert Herold, a winemaker and beer maker from Hartford, Connecticut, looks over petri dish with colonies of bacteria associated with wine production. Numerous winemakers, both professionals and hobbyists recently attended a workshop at the main campus at Penn State for part of a Penn State Extension program offering enology (wine) and viticulture (grape growing) workshops for Pennsylvania wineries and vineyards.

Denise Gardner’s journey to become the state’s wine expert started in her family’s Reading garage, making red-wine blends using hand-me-down equipment and donated grapes.

The daughter of two accountants with no farming background, Gardner began studying agricultural science in high school just for the challenge of it, she said.

She became fascinated with grape-growing and enlisted the help of her brothers to dig holes and plant grape vines for her one summer.

After that, she says she made a lot of red wine with Chambourcin grapes, a hybrid variety that grows well in the mid-Atlantic region.

“Once I started researching about grapes, then I think my parents were a little worried about what I had gotten myself into,” Gardner says.

Now, the 29-year-old Gardner serves as the state enologist — an expert in wine and winemaking — based at University Park, Penn state’s main campus, for the Penn State Extension, an educational partnership between the university, its agricultural professionals and counties.

She doesn’t have time to make her own wine just for fun anymore, but she does make small batches of unfinished wine to use at some of the extension workshops she hosts.

With home winemaking booming and Pennsylvania’s wine industry experiencing dramatic growth, there’s an increasing demand for educational resources specific to Pennsylvania grape-growing and wine-making.

The story is in the numbers.

A few years ago, six people — some pros, some amateurs — showed up for an extension session to help winemakers identify common flaws in wines and how to fix them. Recently, 36 people attended that same session, Gardner says.

Today, Pennsylvania is the seventh-largest wine producer in the nation. The number of active wineries in the state grew from 27 in 1981 to more than 170 last year, says Jennifer Eckinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Winery Association.

“What we don’t have is a lot of school-trained, classically trained people who have gone to France or the University of California, Davis (for) enology,” says Jamie Williams, president of his family’s Winery at Wilcox in Elk County and vice president of the Pennsylvania Winery Association.

But, as second and third generations take over their families’ wineries, there’s an increased appetite for training like that offered by the extension, he says.

The extension’s educational programs on the science of crafting wine are open to anyone, from home winemakers to winery operators. A staff viticulturist, or expert in growing grapes, helps with that end of the process.

Gardner also takes her show on the road, not only holding workshops in University Park but also at wineries or county extension offices throughout the state.

One recent workshop in University Park dealt with the microbiology involved in fermenting wine, the yeast and bacteria present during the process, what they do and how to work with them, she said.

“We’re an industry that anyone can go into,” Gardner says. “People go into it from all different backgrounds … We’re the primary resource to explain the science behind winemaking (and) why you might do something in production.”

After earning a degree in food science from Penn State — her parents said enology was too specific for a 17-year-old to study — Gardner earned a master’s degree in the same discipline with an emphasis on enology from Virginia Tech.

She then spent two years in California’s Napa Valley working as a sensory scientist for a wine analytical company, setting up wine-tasting panels and troubleshooting problems with clients.

Coming back to Penn State as the extension enologist in 2011 fulfilled her dream, Gardner says.

She had been looking for that kind of position, which is prevalent on the West Coast, and one that’s growing as wine industries in other states take off.

Large wineries, particularly in California, may have their own enologist, says Jodi Creasap Gee, chairwoman for the American Society for Enology and Viticulture’s Eastern section.

“I really wanted to give something back to the industry that kind of got me started and helped me find something I became really passionate about,” Gardner says. “(The extension) changed my whole life. I really had spent a lot of time, from a kid on, going to extension programs, seeing what works, how people learned.”

Gardner’s enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge led her to become a certified specialist for wine in November, an internationally recognized credential awarded by the Society of Wine Educators.

“Once you start learning about wine, you realize you need to keep learning about it. It never ends,” she says.

Gardner says her parents’ garage is still full of old wine-making equipment.

And her passion has rubbed off on them.

“Now, they have a much better appreciation for wine,” Gardner says. “I’ve made all my family members wine drinkers.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].

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