OSU-trained taste testers evaluate experimental wines

OSU's James Osborne swirls a glass of wine.
James Osborne is an enologist with the OSU Extension Service. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)
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As they sniff and sip, they can use words like black pepper, forest floor and struck match

To produce the best wine, vineyards and winemakers can't work in silos. OSU is bridging the two by conducting taste tests that aim to correlate vineyard management practices with the quality of the final product.

It has trained 60 Oregon winemakers and vineyard managers to analyze wine. The unpaid volunteers learn several sensory methods that allow them to use their own vocabulary to evaluate the color, aroma, taste and mouthfeel of wines. They gather several times a year for refresher trainings and to evaluate experimental wines made by OSU and Oregon’s wine industry. In 2013 and 2014, they evaluated Pinot noir made from an OSU fruit thinning trial at Stoller Family Estate’s vineyard in Dayton. OSU is now analyzing the ballots to see if differences were detected. The aim is to correlate the results with how the fruit was thinned.

OSU researchers also studied how nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus impact the growth of vines and the quality of wine. Additionally, they are looking at how the brown marmorated stink bug, which clings to grapes and secretes a cilantro-like scent when it's stressed, affects the taste of Pinot noir. They found that one cluster of grapes had to be crushed with the cilantro-scented chemical compound from 3 1/2 stink bugs before tasters noticed a difference.

Oregon was home to 905 vineyards and 379 grape-crushing wineries in 2012. That same year growers produced 50,000 tons of wine grapes worth $116 million.

Sources: OSU enologist Elizabeth Tomasino; Southern Oregon University Research Center's 2012 Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census Report.

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