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Fresno State appoints new faculty for its Department of Viticulture and Enology

Bronco Viticulture chair is filled
August 09, 2018
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Dr. Luca Brillante is the new Bronco Wine Co. Viticulture research chair at Fresno State University. He specializes in precision viticulture. Photo by Kerana Todorov

Fresno State University’s Department of Viticulture and Enology is experiencing new energy these days, with new professors joining the faculty.

The department’s newest faculty member is Dr. Luca Brillante, a viticulture professor and Bronco Wine Co. Viticulture research chair. Brillante, who earned his doctorate in 2014 at the University of Burgundy, completed post doctorate work at UC Davis this summer. 

“Fresno State is really a good place to make a difference,” Brillante said.

Fred Franzia of Bronco Wine Co. first funded the Bronco chair a decade ago. Brillante fills a position left vacant 2 ½ years ago.

Brillante wants to prepare his Fresno State students for jobs in the wine industry. He also plans to conduct research on issues affecting grapegrowing, especially issues in the Central Valley. His research focuses on precision viticulture and efficient vineyard management cultural practices.

He is right at home in the vineyards. Brillante, who comes from an agriculture family in southern family, said he started to work in vineyards at age 14.

“I’m just passionate about this plant,” said Brillante, 32, referring to the common grape vine. “It’s so important for the history of humanity,” he said. “I feel like a sense of belonging to this world.”

Brillante, a sports mountain climber for the University of Bari, where he did his undergraduate studies, also looks forward to being in Fresno and closer to Yosemite.

In addition to Brillante, Dr. Anil Shrestha, a plant science professor at Fresno State, starts the 2018 fall semester as chair of Department of Viticulture and Enology. Shrestha is the department’s first permanent chair in about three years. He is completing a project this summer in Nepal.

The faculty, now counts six faculty members, including the chair. A new Viticulture and Enology Research Center director is scheduled to start in Spring 2019.

Dr. Sonet van Zyl, a faculty member for six years, welcomes the new faculty members to the department, home to about 140 students in enology and viticulture. Faculty members had to pick up extra duties to keep things going after people either retired or took other jobs.

“I’m the happiest person on the planet,” said van Zyl, whose research focuses on table grapes and raisins. “I can start focusing on what I have to do.”

She wants to boost the viticulture program to meet industry demand. About a third of the students at Fresno State focus on viticulture, van Zyl estimated. More are needed. All viticulture students walk out of Fresno State with jobs, she said. They are hired as viticulture managers, pest control advisers, farm advisers or work for their families’ businesses. “There is a big pool for people with viticulture degrees out there.”

Van Zyl also wants to increase contacts with the industry.

In the meantime, faculty members who started last August are settling in.

Dr. Qun “Kristy” Sun, who joined the faculty in 2017, works on three research projects this year. While she pursues her research, Sun considers teaching her most important work at Fresno State.

She enjoys seeing the students’ growth. Her classes are relatively small, she said. That allows for plenty of in-class discussions and one-on-one interactions with the students, Sun said.

“They appreciate what you did for them. I think my job is very meaningful,” Sun said

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