Branching Out

by Elicia Carmichael, MBA '11 (4/8/11)

Elicia Carmichael, MBA '11

While visiting a winery, one of the many things Elicia Carmichael learned about sustainable agiculture was just how much fuzzy botrytis fungi is needed to add flavor and depth to wine.

GrapesGray skies and drizzling rain were predicted. It was 7 a.m., when 15 Cornell University MBA students piled into four cars and drove 1.5 hours to Keuka Lake Vineyards, where we would spend the day harvesting Riesling grapes. The caravan arrived at a tidy, 1800’s farmhouse overlooking rows of grape vines, fall foliage, and the south end of Keuka Lake. The sun was beginning to peak through the clouds, and the prospect of spending a day entangled in grape vines was looking much brighter than it had when the crew had set out. Melvin Goldman, the vineyard owner and a lecturer in entrepreneurship at the Johnson School, had invited us to share in a day of community harvesting, wine education, and hearty, seasonal feasting.

We started our day learning just how much fuzzy botrytis fungi was going to add flavor and depth to the wine, and how much was too much. Goldman explained how farms like his try to minimize their environmental footprints by spraying only when necessary. He pointed out that his many rows of vines were actually less manicured than they appeared from a distance – the weeds growing at the base of each row were evidence of low herbicide use, especially as compared with larger commercial vineyards and their more regular spraying cycles that yield pristine rows of tidy vines.

Picking Grapes

We learned how to check one another’s rows for missed bunches of grapes, and had competitions to see who had made the cleanest sweeps. Our hands grew sticky with grape juice and our backs started to ache from bending and twisting to peek under the lower leaves of the vines. Just as the day began to feel too long, our team was called into the tasting room to test the fruits of our labors. We tried the Riesling produced by the very vines we had just harvested, and agreed that never before had we appreciated a taste of wine so much as we did that evening.

Inspecting Grapes

Sustainable Global Enterprise Agricultural Affinity Group

The Agricultural Affinity Group is one of several interest-driven student groups within the Johnson’s Sustainable Global Enterprise Club. Founded in 2010 its statement of purpose reads:

“As the world population expands and puts more pressure on the Earth's natural resources, businesses working in food and agriculture face increasingly difficult decisions with serious global ramifications. The SGE Agriculture Affinity Group was founded in an effort to help students become experts in understanding what is at stake in these decisions and how innovation and technology can play a role in building good business that promote responsible stewardship.”

One of the club’s most important goals for the year is to connect with the world-class resources across Cornell’s campus and alumni network. The group made significant progress toward this goal in September 2010 when Professor Michael Hoffman, director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station and anssociate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, agreed to act as the group’s interim faculty liaison to all things agriculture-related at Cornell. Hoffman also is a faculty fellow with the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell. Johnson students appreciate having Hoffman’s support in linking them to programs outside of the school, and have already started to ask for connections to other students and faculty working in food science and entrepreneurial ventures.

Immersion Team Group

“There is so much going on the Ag School, that having someone who is dedicated to helping us to understand the breadth of opportunity is an important asset for anyone interested agriculture, “said John Tauzel, MBA 2012.