Learning the Language

In a few days, on April 3, I will be celebrating my two-year anniversary with the National Grape Research Alliance. In my time with NGRA, a lot has changed—our name, most apparently. I’ve changed, too.

As most NGRA stakeholders know, I don’t have a science background. My degrees are in psychology and English. I’ve worked in the wine industry for a dozen years or so, but in marketing or organizational management.

My first intersection with the work I do now was with the great Richie Pisacano, vineyard manager at Wölffer Estate Vineyard on Long Island, NY. While prepping for a media interview on sustainable viticulture, he explained to me what he’d been doing that day: counting spider mites on a grape leaf, monitoring the number every day to assess the need to spray or not. Natural predators of the mites—other bugs or birds—would likely take care of them, he said, but if not, he’d need to apply insecticide. The patience! The confidence in Mother Nature! (And the readiness with backup!) It would be a great example to give the reporter. And it was the moment I really related to what I now know as applied research—and loved it.

Still, two years ago, I couldn’t have explained marker-assisted breeding or variable rate management. I didn’t know what Xylella fastidiosa was, and couldn’t have used “hyphae” in a sentence. I had never heard of a Geneva Double Curtain, a germplasm repository, Gibberellic acid or a CAP grant. I often say that gaining an understanding of research has been like learning a new language, or watching a movie with subtitles. Suddenly you realize that, somewhere along the line, you began to get it, without knowing. Today, I can even (cautiously) speak the language myself.

I am grateful to have worked with people like Richie and, now, all of you who have helped me to gain a wealth of knowledge—and believed that, with it, I could help you advance the industry. I have a lot more to learn. But given the stature of the U.S. grape and wine industry, and the caliber of American academic institutions for viticulture and enology, it’s clear that I have some of the best mentors in the world!

Donnell Brown
President, NGRA