Oregon lawmakers step up to boost OSU fermentation science

By on August 2, 2013
Oregon State University fermentation sciences include brewing beer.

Professors Tom Shellhammer (second from left) and Shaun Townsend (far right) test the taste and aroma of an experimental beer in Oregon State University’s research brewery on campus. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum/OSU)

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon’s lawmakers know the value of agriculture, and they are now spending more than $1 million to expand Oregon State University’s fermentation sciences program.

The program began in 1995 thanks to a $500,000 gift from Willamette Valley Vineyards CEO Jim Bernau, which was matched by the Oregon Legislature. That was enough to establish an endowed professorship for OSU fermentation science. That spawned more programs for brewing science, winemaking and viticulture, dairy and breads, according to OSU.

This year’s Legislature approved $1.2 million to enhance the OSU fermentation science program. It was sponsored by 41 legislators.

“It’s significant that a strong coalition of industry members and key legislators supported this initiative,” Bernau said. “This research effort will create more Oregon jobs in these growing industries.”

Bill Boggess, interim director at the Oregon Wine Research Institute, pointed out that fermentation adds value to many crops. His examples included:

  • Artisan cheese increases the value of milk 10-fold.
  • Wine boosts the value of wine grapes by as many as eight times.
  • Microbreweries raise the value of hops and barley by 30 times.

The new funding will help OSU establish a research distillery at OSU, among other improvements.

“Oregon’s distilled spirits industry is relatively young and rapidly growing,” said Bob McGorrin, head of OSU’s food science and technology department, “similar to where the Oregon wine and microbrew industries were 25 years ago.

OSU fermentation science means big business for Oregon

OSU fermentation science includes cheese production.

Student Marlin Mueller delivers fresh milk to Oregon State University’s cheesemaking facility. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum/OSU)

Today, Oregon’s wine industry has an economic impact of nearly $3 billion annually with nearly 500 wineries and 850 vineyards. The Oregon wine industry employs about 8,000 people.

And the Oregon craft beer industry employs nearly 7,500 full- and part-time workers. The state’s 137 craft breweries have a total economic impact of more than $2.8 billion annually. With 51, Portland has the most breweries of any city in the world.

The OSU fermentation science program has enjoyed a 500 percent growth in the past decade, McGorrin said.

Dan Arp, dean of OSU’s college of agricultural sciences, said Oregon’s fermentation industries are growing so rapidly, there is an increased demand for regional ingredients.

“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,” he said. “It’s all part of assuring Oregon’s reputation for premium quality products.”

Other areas the OSU fermentation science funding will help include:

  • Molecular and microbial factors that can affect wine quality.
  • Wine grape research and vineyard management.
  • Anticipating agricultural challenges from pests, diseases and climactic conditions.
  • Cheese fermentation methods.
  • New varieties of aroma hops and methods for assessing beer bitterness.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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