Monday, July 11, 2016

Organic and Biodynamic Viticultural Expert Appointed to Superintendent at Hopland UCCE Station

In 1994, the Fetzer family in Mendocino hired a young plant pathologist just out of grad school to convert their 170+ acres of organic vineyards to Biodynamic certification.

Dave Koball, a U.C. Davis grad with a master's degree in plant pathology from Cornell University, took on that challenge, and stayed with those vines (and more) for more than 22 years.
Dave Koball

These were the grapes that, to a great degree, kickstarted the early era of Biodynamics in California (and later Oregon) vineyards. Jim Fetzer's pioneering work in Biodynamics with Alan York was one of the first steps in that story.

Later Mike Benziger started buying fruit from these vines. He was so bowled over by their quality that he hired York to come and work for him at Benziger.

The Hopland vineyard, with 300+ acres of certified Biodynamic vines, is still today the largest Biodynamic vineyard in the U.S. (a title that is expected to pass to Oregon's King Estate later this year, sit certifies 471 acres of vines).

Last month the Hopland Cooperative Extension Research, part of the University of California, announced that Koball will be joining its team as the Superintendent of HCER. 

Koball managed the 900+ acres of organic vineyards (including those 300+ acres of Biodynamic vineyards) for Fetzer's Bonterra brand throughout three eras. The first was under the Fetzer Family, the second was during the time when the liquor company Brown-Forman owned the winery (1992-2010), and the third is the current era of Vina Concha y Toro S.A. ownership which began in 2010.

Under the Chilean company's ownership Bonterra's wine sales have increased 15 percent, year over year.

During Koball's tenure, the vineyards were studied in various university sponsored research projects on organic and Biodynamic methods including the use of Biodynamic preps in composting (Washington State University) and a new cost study on the comparative costs of growing wine grapes Biodynamically (U.C. Davis). 

HCER has a 5,000 ranch in Hopland where it conducts research on agriculture and wildlife.

In the university's announcement about Koball's new job, Koball says, "I am thrilled and honored to become a member of the knowledgeable, dedicated and enthusiastic team at the University of California Hopland REC. It is my hope that my background in research from earlier in my career and more recent winegrape industry experience will help me to increase the visibility and usability of this gem of a resource that we have here in our backyard."

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