John Fellman Interview – Washington St. University Horticulture Advisor

The next interview comes from John Fellman, the primary undergraduate advisor for the Department of Horticulture at Washington State University.

What is your position at Washington State University?

I am a Professor of Postharvest Physiology in the Horticulture Department at WSU. I am also a faculty member in the Graduate Program in Molecular Plant Science. My principal teaching and advising responsibilities include:

  • Undergraduate advising/mentoring for students interested in fruit and vegetable horticulture and principle advisor for our relatively new Undergraduate Viticulture and Enology Program.
  • Graduate student (Ph.D. and M.S.) mentoring.
  • Undergraduate and graduate-level courses in Postharvest Biology and Technology, Chemistry and Biochemistry of Fruits and Wine

My principal research responsibilities include the following:

  • Phytochemistry/biochemistry of perishable plant products.
  • Chemistry and biochemistry of processing transformations.
  • Plant physiology of harvested plant organs, perishables shelf-life extension, grape pigments and tannins, volatile aroma chemistry and biochemistry.

What type of background should a student have before entering a program such as viticulture or enology?

Foremost, this is a people-oriented enterprise, so adequate interpersonal and communication skills are manifest. The course load is heavy towards Plant Biology, Horticulture, Chemistry and Biochemistry, with slightly less emphasis on microbiology and genetics. In France, students complete an undergraduate degree in biochemistry before spending more time in wine school.

Why do you believe the wine industry continues to grow and provide so many opportunities?

It’s fun! If you like plants and working outside in nice locations around the world then Viticulture is the way to go. If you like manipulating raw products and transforming them into finished wines that people normally consume when having a good time, then Enology can be useful on many levels. If you like both there are many other opportunities in the winemaking/grape growing enterprise, such as wine buyer, sommelier, marketer, etc. We are witnessing a virtual explosion in the U.S. industry, particularly in areas not normally considered wine growing regions (like North Dakota and Minnesota), so for one willing to relocate, the opportunities appear limitless.

Any advice for those looking to enter the wine industry through your program?

I would recommend a college-preparatory secondary curriculum with math, chemistry and biology. Having a “can-do” attitude and natural inquisitiveness is useful. Willingness to realize the meaning of the Twain quote on my tagline on emails is a BIG plus.

“Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.”

–Mark Twain

What is your favorite type of wine?

Lately I’ve been enjoying Carminere-the almost lost Bordeaux grape. Also high on my list: Spanish and Italian reds such as Sangiovese, and Tempranillo. There’s a wine to suits everybody’s taste.

Sign up for our newsletter!