Keeping it Green: Agriculture and the alcohol industry

PHOTO PROVIDED Rows of grapevines at the Happy Valley Vineyard and Winery. Note the black structures attached to the upper wires on vines to the left. This is rolled up bird netting that will be dropped over the plant later in the season to prevent bird damage on the fruit.

By Tom Butzler

(Editors Note: This article is the third in a series exploring professional opportunities for Penn State Extension agricultural educators during the 2019 summer.)

In the first two installments of this series, I wrote about my June professional development tour of agricultural operations on Penn State’s campus and off-site at Goot Essa cheese. The last tour stops of this day dealt with agriculture and alcohol.

After cheese tasting, our group headed to Happy Valley Vineyard. Owners Barb Christ and Elwin Stewart gave an overview of their 10-acre operation. In their previous life, they were researchers in Penn State’s Plant Pathology Department. Probably not a bad background as grapes can be a magnet for several diseases and management is critical in order to ensure a harvest.

Over the years, they have moved to mostly growing hybrid varieties (only grow one European variety) as these seem better suited to their land and local climate.

In fact, many believe that the land produces unique tastes. For example, a wine made from their white hybrid grape Vignoles will have subtle differences compared to a Vignole wine out of Missouri.

Once their vineyard was established, had the ability to produce quality wines, and there was a demand for their product, they constructed a tasting room. Just like the cheese stop, we had a chance to taste a wide variety of their offerings. They create over 30 different wines, from a dry white to sweet reds.

To wrap up the day, we headed to the hops research plot on Penn State’s entomology farm. Several other team members and I talked about our projects within the yard. Hops, a major ingredient in beer to add bitterness and various flavors, is grown mostly in the western US. But those varieties they grow are not necessarily best for our climate. The main purpose of our trial is to evaluate 14 varieties to see how they perform.

In addition, we had researchers from Penn State’s Food Science Department evaluating the role of copper on aroma/flavor compounds. Some hop growers, especially organic, utilize copper as a management tool for diseases. Copper applications were applied to our “Cascade” and harvested cones from treated and untreated (these were the control) plots were used in small batches beer recipes. Test subjects were then given samples to taste and evaluate. This did not occur on the tour but in a strictly controlled setting with trained subjects.

This article concludes the professional development tours in Centre County. The next in the series will start to look at tours in Oregon’s Williamette Valley.


Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.