Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is seeking applicants for a tenure-track position in viticulture to be located at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center (www.arec.vaes.vt.edu/arec/alson-h-smith.html) near Winchester, Virginia. This is an Assistant Professor position with equal appointments in research and extension and a tenure home in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. The position is an academic year (9-month) appointment. The successful candidate will develop a nationally-recognized, externally-funded research and extension program principally focused on wine grapes, but with opportunities to conduct table grape and small fruit research as funding and partnerships are developed. The incumbent or the successful candidate will be expected to recruit and mentor graduate students and will have the opportunity to revise and teach a 4000-level, on-line viticulture course. The successful applicant will engage with Virginia Cooperative Extension Agents and other Extension Specialists to deliver research-based, broadly accessible, inclusive extension materials that address the relevant needs of Virginia’s grape and wine industries.
The viticulturist is one of 6 full-time faculty at the AREC; other positions include a tree fruit horticulturist, a tree fruits pathologist, a grape pathologist, an entomologist (and Center director), and an extension enologist. The viticulturist historically worked in tandem with enology and pest management specialists to advance industry adoption of novel varieties, refine grapevine canopy and vineyard floor management practices, and improve pest and disease management, all with the aim of enhancing grape and wine quality potential, and vineyard/winery profitability. The AREC has modern labs for physiologic, molecular and fruit compositional analyses, green houses, controlled-environment chambers, and a 120-acre research farm, including a research vineyard.
Research opportunities: Potential research areas will almost always require a team approach with faculty from other disciplines, and should align with current university and AREC strategic plans, the College’s SmartFarm Innovation Network and tap resources available through the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture. Research priorities will be periodically reviewed by industry stakeholders and will align with your skills and funding success; potential areas include:
- Collaboration with grape breeders and grape breeding programs to fully evaluate novel varieties and potential varieties for adaptation to Mid-Atlantic climate, pest and disease conditions (with a focus on phenological adaptation, cold hardiness, disease resistance, as well as wine or table grape quality potential).
- Collaboration with enology research and extension faculty to develop real-time, non-destructive means of evaluating vine health, including nutrient status, grape composition and ripeness, and wine quality potential.
- Determine impact of viticultural practices on flavor, aroma, and defensive or nutraceutical properties of grapes and grape products.
- Assessment of vineyard practices, including pesticide usage, vineyard floor vegetation management, nutrient and biostimulant applications on soil physical and biological properties.
- Refinement and validation of a GIS system for superior matching of vineyard site and grape variety combinations (based on site physical and climatological features, as well as variety phenology and stress resistance).
- Refinement of “established” vineyard management practices to more efficiently and precisely use resources, such as: precision fertilizer application based on real-time, non-destructive plant sensing; precision water management based on in situ plant water potential sensors, grapevine canopy management practices that are calibrated for a warming macroclimate.
- Engineering and economic analyses of protected cultural systems for wine grapes and table grapes, including pest and disease management considerations.
- Engineering and economic analyses of automated vine and vineyard management tools and other technologies to reduce labor requirements (or to derive additional income from land (e.g., dual culture systems, agrovoltaics, etc.).
- Research synthetic analogs of naturally occurring phytohormones (such as ABA) that can be used to alter the phenology of grapevines in predictable ways to lessen the impact of abiotic challenges such as winter low temperatures or spring frost.
We envision a continued collaboration with enology, pathology, entomology and horticulture faculty at the AHS Jr. AREC, as well as continuing opportunities to network with colleagues at other land-grant universities, the USDA/ARS, and with recent SmartFarm Innovation Network cluster hires at other ARECs and on campus.
Scholarship and funding: The successful candidate will be expected to secure extramural funding, publish in peer-reviewed journals, recruit and mentor graduate students, actively participate in professional societies and contribute to AREC, SPES and college service. International engagement and recognition are encouraged and expected as your career advances. Extramural, competitive funding is available from state agencies including the Virginia Wine Board (www.virginiawine.org/industry/virginia-wine-board), the Virginia Agricultural Council, and blocks grants from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. AREC faculty have also been successful with USDA/NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative funding, and increasingly with corporate research partners such as the Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corporation (www.virginiacatalyst.org), and with agrichemical companies for product efficacy testing.
Virginia wine and grape industries: Virginia ranks 8th nationally in terms of wine production and 6th in terms of wine grape production. The Commonwealth is home to more than 350 wineries, 4,000 vineyard acres, employs more than 10,000 in the wine and grape sector, and generated $1.7 billion in economic impact in 2019 (Economic Forensics and Analytics, Inc.). The industry recognizes 10 wine sub-regions within the state, including 8 named AVAs. Virginia’s macroclimate is continental temperate to humid, sub-tropical with precipitation generally uniformly distributed throughout four distinct seasons of the year. Winter cold injury is possible; however, the current industry is based primarily on Vitis vinifera cultivars and some interspecific hybrids that have good tolerance of winter low temperatures in much of Virginia.