Wine program uncorks potential
Students appreciate wine appreciation class
In 1989, Jim Butler, a forward-thinking Indiana winemaker from Bloomington, contacted Phil Nelson, an equally forward-thinking department head at Purdue University.
As owner of one of Indiana’s oldest wineries, Butler was interested in growing and promoting Indiana’s fledgling wine industry, which, at the time, boasted nine operating wineries. Not all of them, Butler admits, were selling a top-quality product.
As head of the College of Agriculture’s newest department (he helped start the food science department in 1983), Nelson was interested in getting more students into and more graduates out of the department.
But could they help each other? Butler had high hopes. Nelson wasn’t so optimistic.
“If we can get you some money,” Butler lobbied Nelson, “would you be interested in supporting the wine industry by establishing a program at Purdue?”
Nelson knew the difference between red and white wine, and little else about the wine industry. But, ever the scientist and educator, Nelson thought the learning process sounded like fun.
“Sure,” was the short answer the skeptical Nelson gave Butler.
“I really didn’t give our conversation much of a second thought,” Nelson recalls today. “I just didn’t think the Indiana wine industry would be able to come up with the kind of money necessary to support the sort of program we were talking about.”
Butler comes through
Jim Butler had the determination of a pit bull. He convinced Indiana legislators to divert one cent from each bottle of wine sold in the state to support the burgeoning wine industry. The money, in the form of state appropriations, would establish the Indiana Wine Grape Council.
In just two years, Butler came back to Nelson with the legislative backing to support three staff positions in the College of Agriculture — an enologist, a marketer (to help promote the Indiana wine industry) and a viticulturalist to help producers determine which grapes are best-suited for Indiana soils.
Now that Butler delivered, it was Nelson’s turn to convince Purdue administrators that students, employers and the state of Indiana would benefit by establishing a relationship with the Indiana Wine Grape Council.
“Boy,” Nelson recalls, “it wasn’t easy.”
Like Butler, Nelson could be a pit bull. It was Nelson who convinced the university to build the Food Science Building in the first place.
Nelson conceded that the marketer would work off-campus, in Indianapolis. It was more centrally located to the wine industry and it kept the position at arm’s length from the university.
Finally armed with the administration’s approval, Nelson went looking for an enologist to add to the faculty. At the same time, Bruno Moser, then department head of horticulture and landscape architecture, began looking for a viticulturalist.
Bordelon and Vine: Great names, great hires
Moser struck gold first, hiring Bruce Bordelon (his name even sounds like a fine French wine), who had just completed his PhD at the University of Arkansas.
Nelson wasn’t so lucky. He had Richard Vine in his sights, but Vine was reluctant to leave his faculty position at Mississippi State University for Indiana, where the foothold of the state’s wine industry was on a slippery slope.
“I wanted to go to California,” Vine says. “At that time, Indiana’s reputation in the wine industry was not that strong.”
Twice Vine turned Nelson down, which forced Nelson to turn up the
|© 2005 Purdue Agriculture|