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Justine Vanden Heuvel

Justine Vanden Heuvel


PS 14 Plant Science, Ithaca and Hedrick Hall, Geneva

As an Associate Professor in the Horticulture Section, I`'m actively involved in both research and teaching. My research focuses on optimizing flavors and aromas in wine grapes, and improving both the environmental and economic sustainability of wine grape production systems in cool climates. I teach several undergraduate courses in Viticulture.

Research Focus

Advancing the science of horticulture using both traditional and novel approaches to optimize crop performance is the long-term goal of my research. It is my hope that this research will provide a meaningful contribution to the broader agricultural sciences through potential application to other cropping systems, and to viticulture through improved cultural practices and wine quality. As a function of this, my program is designed to sustain and invigorate the rapidly expanding Northeastern grape and wine industry by producing top-quality research with worldwide relevance. In response to the broad needs of the grape and wine industry, my program has established a strong focus on multi-disciplinary and collaborative approaches. The following long-term objectives of my research program have been shaped by the principles discussed above.

Goal 1: Optimizing winegrape production using computational tools

Vineyard managers and wine makers employ a variety of operational field targets to guide cultural practices, particularly with respect to canopy architecture and canopy management. However, these targets lack precision in that they are often broad (e.g., a general effort to keep clusters exposed) or exceedingly difficult for growers to quantify and implement based on their specific production environment (e.g., maintaining a leaf area to fruit ratio of 7 to 14 cm2 per gram of fruit). My lab has developed quantitative methods for precisely characterizing and sampling grapevine canopies. These highly quantitative, multi-disciplinary response models are the foundation for the applied production models we are also developing. The applied production models implement precise quantitative targets for optimizing winegrape production.

Goal 2: Determining how ecophysiological factors affect grape flavors and aromas

It is difficult to predict the impact of viticultural practices on flavors and aromas without understanding how a broad range of ecophysiological factors influence vine performance and fruit composition, as any change in viticultural practices generally impacts vine microclimate. There are a wide range of compounds that contribute to wine varietal character and sensory characteristics through specific flavor and aroma profiles, but the impact of physiological and environmental conditions on these compounds during fruit growth is largely unknown. Thus far in the program, our focus has been on how changes to the canopy structure affect cluster light interception and cluster temperature. We're conducting and/or collaborating on several studies to determine the impact of light, temperature, and canopy architecture on specific flavor and aroma compounds in V. vinifera and hybrid cultivars so that viticultural practices can be better targeted towards optimizing fruit composition.

Goal 3: Enhancing economic sustainability of winegrape production

Recommending vineyard practices based solely on their impact on fruit and/or wine composition ignores a fundamental goal of most grape and wine producers: profitability. However many growers, particularly in the Northeast, lack a straightforward reference for maximizing returns and setting minimum farm-level prices in light of existing market conditions. My program has worked collaboratively towards establishing a model to enhance the decision-making acuity of growers with respect to grapevine crop load management. Building on this framework we have developed and completed multi-disciplinary projects on the impact of vineyard management practices on the costs of production and consumers' willingness-to-pay for the resulting wines.

Goal 4: Improving environmental sustainability of winegrape production

Winegrape production, particularly of V. vinifera, is challenging in Northeastern vineyards where fertile soils can produce vigorous vines and a humid climate can result in high disease pressure. As a result, fungicide usage is high. Our objective is to determine the impact of vineyard management on canopy spray penetration, disease incidence, and leaching of nutrients and agrochemicals in vineyard soils to identify best practices that can reduce the environmental impact of growing V. vinifera in the Northeast. To achieve this objective we have undertaken a series of studies on both canopy/crop load management and vineyard floor management to identify viticultural practices to enhance the environmental sustainability of production operations.

Outreach and Extension Focus

I work with extension educators to train winegrape growers throughout the Northeast to optimize winegrape production systems.

Teaching Focus

Teaching responsibilities include: Viticulture and Vineyard Management (HORT/VIEN 3440), Grapes to Wines (HORT/FDSC/VIEN 2204), and Sustainable and Organic Grape Growing and Winemaking (HORT/VIEN 3120).

Selected Publications

Journal Publications

Presentations and Activities

  • New F.A.C.E.S.: Fostering Agricultural Extension and Communication Students – A USDA‐HEMSP Supported Project at Cornell University. NACTA Annual Conference. June 2014. North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA),. Bozeman, MT .
  • Impact of Canopy Management Practices on Yield, Fruit Composition, Wine Quality, and Consumer Willingness-To-Pay for Riesling Wines. Finger Lakes Grape Growers Conference. March 2011. CCE Finger Lakes Grapes Program. Waterloo, NY.
  • Defining Typicity in Cool Climate Rieslings. Wine Active Compounds. March 2010. UNESCO Chair of Wine and Culture. Beaune, Burgundy, France.