CORVALLIS, Ore. - In the closing days of the 2013 legislative session, Oregon lawmakers approved $1.2 million for Oregon State University to enhance the Agricultural Experiment Station's fermentation sciences program.
Demonstrating broad bipartisan support, the legislation was sponsored by 41 Oregon lawmakers.
"It's significant that a strong coalition of industry members and key legislators supported this initiative, given the challenging funding environment," said Jim Bernau, founder of the Willamette Valley Vineyards. "This research effort will create more Oregon jobs in these growing industries."
The funding will support university research in all aspects of the production of high value wine, beer, cheese, breads and distilled spirits, all products of fermentation.
Fermentation adds value to many of Oregon's crops, according to Bill Boggess, an economist and interim director of the Oregon Wine Research Institute. For example, he said, artisan cheese increases the value of a gallon of milk ten-fold; high quality wine increases the value of Pinot noir grapes up to eight times; and craft beer increases the value of hops and barley as much as 30 times. In addition, distillation adds significant value to fruits and grains.
Among other enhancements to the existing program, the legislative funding will help establish a new research distillery at OSU, adding another key feature to its fermentation program.
The program began in 1995 when the Oregon legislature voted to match a $500,000 gift from Jim Bernau to establish the nation's first endowed professorship in fermentation science. It quickly grew into a full suite of programs in brewing science, enology and viticulture, dairy, and breads.
With the additional investment from the 2013 legislature, OSU will be the first university in the nation with a working research winery, brewery and distillery, keeping pace with Oregon's rapidly diversifying fermentation industries, according to Bob McGorrin, Jacobs-Root Professor and head of OSU's Food Science and Technology Department.
"Oregon's distilled spirits industry is relatively young and rapidly growing," McGorrin said, "similar to where the Oregon wine and microbrew industries were 25 years ago.
In fact, all Oregon's fermentation industries are advancing rapidly, bringing with them an increased demand for quality local ingredients, such as fruits, grains and milk, according to Dan Arp, Reub Long Professor and dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.
"We need to advance our research in order to keep up with these industries and their needs for product innovation, food safety and sustainable production. It's all part of assuring Oregon's reputation for premium quality products," Arp said.
Besides the establishment of a new distilling program, the legislative funding will expand OSU's fermentation research in areas such as:
• new methods for assessing beer bitterness;
• molecular and microbial factors that affect wine quality;
• cheese fermentation methods for greater consistency and food safety.
Funding will also support research into the sustainable production of high quality ingredients used in fermentation, with emphasis on:
• wine grape research and innovative vineyard management;
• barley, hop and wheat breeding, creating new varieties for new products;
• milk production research and teaching at the OSU Dairy herd and student experience producing Beaver Classic cheese;
• anticipating agricultural challenges from emerging pests, disease, and climatic conditions.
Oregon is home to more than 460 wineries, 850 vineyards, and 170 microbreweries. The annual economic impact of Oregon's wine and beer industries is approximately $5.5 billion, according to the Oregon Wine Board and the Oregon Brewers' Guild.
In parallel with the growth of industries, student enrollment in the fermentation sciences program at OSU has grown 500 percent in the last 10 years, according to McGorrin.
OSU's undergraduate and graduate degree programs build on certificate and associate degree programs at Chemeketa and Umpqua community colleges, partners in providing a strong workforce for Oregon's fermentation industries, McGorrin said.
Representatives from those industries, in particular Sam Tannahill of A to Z Wineworks and Ed King of King Estate Winery, were instrumental in supporting funding for fermentation sciences at OSU.