Weather and Wine
Posted on Friday, July 11, 2014
When Daniel Budmen'15 studied environmental meteorology with Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird, he had no idea that setting up a weather station at a vineyard would lead him to want to pursue a career in grape growing - nor that by his last summer at HWS he'd be working in seven vineyards in Napa Valley, Calif. Currently an intern with Constellation Brands, Budmen is based out of the Robert Mondavi Winery.
"There are numerous American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) represented across the valley so we see a lot of different microclimates within the ranches," explains Budmen, a geosciences and environmental studies major with a sustainable community development minor. "There are also a variety of farming techniques and tactics, from terrace farming to valley floor farming."
The ability to learn so much about so many different styles of farming is among the things he enjoys the most about his current internship.
"I love the diversity- that I have to think differently and work differently at each ranch. That's what a liberal arts education teaches you: how to think differently and critically for each situation," says Budmen.
Each day, he arrives at the vineyard by around 5:45 a.m. and is given his assignment, learning what ranch he will be working for the day. He heads out to the ranch at 6 a.m. "Every day brings something new," he says. Most recently, they spent a number of days inspecting for pests, mildew and other threats to the vines.
"Ultimately, our job is to make sure that the vines, grapes and clusters are as healthy as they can be so when the winemakers say they are ready to harvest they're the best quality we can deliver to them," says Budmen. "We continually make sure they are progressing as they should and that nothing is impeding their progress in any area of growth, from the soil to the leaves."
A key focus this time of year is monitoring ‘stress' in the vines. As the growing season continues, vineyard staff wants to increase the stress to the vines so the plants put their effort into growing the berries rather than leaves. This is one way they control the intensity and flavor of the grape through sugar and acid balance, and they stress the vines in a number of ways, including pruning and limited watering.
Budmen is also currently taking soil samples across all seven of the vineyards as some blocks (growing sections) of grapes need to be replanted.
"Research has found certain grape root stock to be resistant to nematodes, so we're currently testing the soil of the ranches to see if there are nematodes present; this will help us determine if we need to use the resistant root stock and, if so, where," he explains.
His experience this summer has solidified his interest in the industry and has given him a number of opportunities to network and make connections.
"People think of Napa as a large place, but there's really a small community of people who live and work here, combined with a large international base," says Budmen. "I've met people from France, Germany, Italy... different wine regions of the world."
Before he returns to New York, he will take a weekend trip to Oregon, where there are many examples of sustainable practices in grape growing - an area Budmen is passionate about.
He then plans to gain more experience in the Finger Lakes when he returns, since it was his class project studying the microclimate of Silver Thread Vineyard on Seneca Lake that first inspired his interest in the industry. Budmen would also like to work a harvest in the Southern Hemisphere and in Europe, "learning farming styles from different regions, what others are doing and where the U.S. has the potential to grow," he says, adding that ultimately, he'd like to manage or own a vineyard in the U.S.
On campus, he and Rebecca Greiff '14 formed the Drink Local Campaign in an effort to eliminate plastic water bottle use and promote the use of reusable water bottles on campus, with help from the Carver and DeLaney Family Environmental Studies Endowment. The initiative launches this fall, with the installation of seven clean and convenient water refill stations on campus. Budmen and Greiff hope the stations act as an incentive for people to carry and use a reusable water bottle, while being aware of the positive consequences of their choices. Nalgene water bottles with an image of the campus marked with the locations of the refill will be distributed to incoming first-year students at Orientation.
Budmen also is a resident assistant and student worker with the Office of Admissions and volunteers with Roots and Shoots program in Geneva. He has served as a member of the IdeaLab Student Selection Committee, is a recipient of the Centennial Center for Leadership's Centennial Leadership Fellowship , and was among the students who participated in the WxChallenge, the North American collegiate weather forecasting competition.