Stephen Menke, recently hired by Colorado State University as an associate professor of enology (the study of wines), will serve as Colorado’s state enologist and an information nexus for Colorado winemakers. Menke will research the unique characteristics of Colorado grapes, help develop the Colorado wine brand and teach enology classes at CSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.
Menke, based at CSU’s Western Colorado Research Center in Grand Junction, said Colorado’s budding wine industry has the potential to become a niche market because of the unique flavors of grapes grown at Colorado’s high altitude. Menke will join CSU viticulture Professor Horst Caspari to work with growers, vintners and consumers to ensure high-quality wines are coming from the Colorado region.
"I was attracted to this job in part by the kinds of wines produced here in Colorado," Menke said. "There is an unquantified taste that accompanies high-altitude growing. I would like to investigate the mature flavor of a grape here at high altitude."
Colorado’s wine industry, based primarily on the Western Slope, contributed more than $40 million to the state’s economy during the 2005 growing season, according to a recent CSU study.
Investing in the wine industry is an investment in small family agriculture, Menke said. Growing grapes can make farmland more profitable, which can enable small family farms to stay in business. Working with grape farmers to ensure they are growing the right type of grapes that perform best in high altitude is also essential to CSU’s research outreach.
"This is a normal process for building a wine industry," Menke said, noting the steps involved in creating consistent, high quality batches of wine that win awards.
Marketing also is an essential step, he said. Wineries must educate consumers and wholesalers alike about their products and the entire industry will reap the profits. Some wineries may excel at production, but without marketing, those efforts could go to waste. Menke and CSU will collaborate with the Colorado Wine Board in marketing efforts.
"The whole idea is to develop Colorado wine as a brand," Menke said.
Ideally, Colorado would develop some good restaurant wines that pair well with food in addition to developing some superior stand-alone wines, Menke said. This would allow consumers purchase options that would boost the total sales of the Colorado wine industry.
"Steve’s knowledge and experience with wines and wine-making is a valuable addition to our program and a major benefit to Colorado’s emerging wine industry," said Stephen Wallner, head of CSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. "He will enable CSU to even more effectively accomplish its goal of research and outreach in support of Colorado’s economic development. His teaching is also central to our implementation of the new undergraduate program in viticulture (growing grapevines) and enology."
Menke came to CSU from Penn State University where he served in a similar capacity. He also worked as an enology specialist at the University of Illinois before moving to Penn State.