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Ron Jackson: From Plant Pathology to Wine Author
The story of my conversion from plant pathologist to wine author is almost like the song:
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones …”
except that instead of connecting bones, it was an odd set of circumstances beginning with my CCM bicycle. With it, one day friends and I cycled almost a mile (what a laugh) to the Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway Station in Oshawa. Someone had dumped iris rhizomes down a ravine at the end of station platform. Reprieving what my bicycle rack would carry began my connection with irises, and a love of gardening.
Fast forward to my attendance a Queen’s University, and my intention to become a green-plant botanist. To earn my way, I worked during summers at a large estate in Oshawa, owned by Sam McLaughlin, President and subsequently Chairman of General Motors Canada (he owned the automotive company that with four others in the United States, became General Motors). Working at his Parkwood Estate was, to me, like adding fertilizer to plants. Among the many horticulturals on the estate were irises astounding beyond my wildest dreams. On request, the head gardener provided me with the catalogues from which he had been purchased those exquisite cultivars. They were a must. Thus, some of my salary was diverted to purchase several paradisaical rhizomes. These were lovingly established in my garden that autumn (bye-bye CP irises). Come spring, I returned home, almost with bated breath, to be dazzled into an ecstasy by what my eyes would behold. To my horror, half my investment remained prostrate, covered with black convoluted structures and a brown fuzz (Botrytis convoluta). I almost had convulsions. That was the beginning of my involvement with Botrytis, and my career shift to a Don Quixote on crusade to rid the world of this despicable pathogen. However, instead of eliminating this dread fungus, studying it provided me with my MSc and PhD in plant pathology. Maybe the fungus was not so vile after all. The association of a related fungus (Botrytis cinerea) with grapevines, as a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde fungus, provided a novel introduction to any lecture I might give to prospective employers. Under highly specific conditions, B. cinerea can induce a “noble” versus the usual, bunch (ignoble) rot. The result is the transformation of grapes that, otherwise would only produce a lovely dry white wine, into the most seraphic dessert wine imaginable (e.g., Sauternes, Ausleses, Tokaji).
Again, fast forward to Cornell University, and my first sabbatical. There I was established for a year of relative freedom to study at my hearts content, and in a wine growing region (Finger Lakes, NY). There I took a course from Bob Pool (Viticulture) and joined the Bacchus Wine Society. Thus, the seeds of the new me were planted and sprouted. Back in Brandon, my studies of the genetics on Botrytis sputtered for several years, while students and the community avidly devoured my courses on wine. The standard wine making and grape growing texts of the time (by Drs. Amerine and Winkler) were getting dated, applied specifically to the Californian wine industry, and were woefully silent on topics this botanist/plant pathologist considered essential. As these authors seemed unlikely to produce updates to their respective texts, I saw a potential niche opening for someone (me). Although I applied myself to the task like a fiend, it still took about 10 years. With luck, Wine Science came out before anyone else took up the challenge, and the Manitoba Liquor Commission asked me to train and assess their proposed tasting panel (the seminal ideas for Wine Tasting). The rest, as they say “is history.”
About the Author
Ronald S. Jackson received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Queen’s University and the doctorate from the University of Toronto. His time in Vineland, Ontario, and subsequently at Cornell University, redirected his interest in plant disease toward viticulture and enology. As part of his regular teaching duties at Brandon University, he developed the first wine technology course in Canada. For many years, Dr. Jackson was a technical advisor to the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, developed sensory tests to assess the tasting skills of members of its Sensory Panel, and was a member of its External Tasting Panel.
Dr. Jackson has left his position as a professor and the chair of the Botany Department at Brandon University to concentrate on writing. He is allied with the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Brock University.
He is also the author of Elsevier books Wine Science: Principles and Applications, Fourth Edition, which won the prestigious OIV Award in 2015, and the forthcoming Wine Tasting: A Professional Handbook, Third Edition, due in February 2017.
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