Before bringing her expertise to Texas A&M University, Dr. Andreea Botezatu grew up roaming through her grandfather’s vineyard in Romania. “When we began making wine, everything smelled like fruits, the earth and the sun all put together,” she said. “We used a large wooden wine press to crush the grapes, and bees buzzed around as everything became sweet and sticky.”
Botezatu grew even more captivated by the process of making wine as she discovered the science behind it, known as enology. “I was fascinated by the interplay of the aromatic compounds, how they work together and how we perceive them,” Botezatu said. Inspired by her grandfather and her native country’s centuries-old winemaking traditions, Botezatu decided to become a winemaker herself.
After spending a few years producing wine in Romania, she and her husband moved to Canada, where she completed her doctoral studies. In 2017, Botezatu brought her experience to Texas, where she now oversees Texas A&M’s new enology certificate program and helps local winemakers craft their reds, whites and rosés with a Texan flair. As the demand for wine and grape production continues to grow in the Lone Star State, Texas A&M is equipping graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to enter the $13.1 billion wine industry through applied research and improved programs.
From Vines to Wine
Though the state’s first winery opened in 1883, the Texas wine industry did not begin to evolve until the early 1970s. Since then, Texas has grown to boast more than 500 licensed wineries. During the past 20 years, Texas A&M has advanced grape-growing knowledge through its viticulture program’s research, which focuses on adjusting growing practices to the Texas climate and combating persistent diseases, such as Pierce’s disease and cotton root rot, that ruin crop yields. To further prepare students for the industry, the university established a course in enology, the technical side of winemaking, in 2017.
“Winemakers have to grow the types of grapes that produce the wines people want to consume,” said Dr. Dan Lineberger, head of Texas A&M’s Department of Horticultural Sciences. “Our university has always had a strong viticulture program, but we need to turn our attention to helping winery operators actually make wines as well.”
As Texas A&M’s first licensed enologist, Botezatu heads the certificate program, which offers Aggies courses in enology, viticulture, chemistry, sensory evaluation and more to enhance their knowledge of the winemaking process. “The impact of this program has been phenomenal,” Botezatu said. “Many students have been surprised by the science behind making wine, and some have even changed their career paths to enter the wine industry.”
Botezatu also leads the graduate enology program, in which students focus on the issues most prevalent in the Texas wine industry, such as acidity, aroma profiles and color consistency. “We use both the chemical and sensory components of wines to figure out which chemical is influencing which aspect,” Botezatu said. “This helps us inform the industries as to what aromas and flavor profiles customers prefer, so they can make appropriate production decisions.”
Raising the Bar
Texas A&M’s viticulture and enology researchers remain in constant contact with the wine industry, helping winemakers identify grape varieties that can flourish in the Texas terroir while researching methods for producing the highest quality wines from those grapes. “My research has focused on problems of pH, or acidity, which often leads to other problems such as color stability,” Botezatu said. “I’ve been studying an enzyme that could decrease the pH of wines, and I’ve discovered some very exciting results.”
In addition to applying research, the Texas A&M AgriLife Viticulture and Enology team hosts more than 25 annual programs for winemakers and offers one-on-one consulting to industry partners in the Texas High Plains, Hill Country, northern and coastal regions. “We’ve been working to solve the problems of the Texas grape industry and conduct outreach to educate growers for decades,” said Jim Kamas, an AgriLife Extension specialist with the Fredericksburg Viticulture and Fruit Lab. “As Texas A&M’s programs grow, I hope to see more of the next generation of industry experts come from the ranks of our graduates.”
One such graduate is Chris Brundrett ’06, who co-founded William Chris Vineyards, one of the top producers of 100 percent Texas-grown wines. “My time at Texas A&M taught me to never settle and to create my own path,” Brundrett said. “This really translated into my career, as our team works everyday to ensure our company is a leader in the wine industry.”
As Texas A&M’s programs continue to grow, graduates launch their careers in the industry equipped with the knowledge necessary to further its advancement. “Thanks to the generosity of donors and collaborations with extension specialists like Jim, we’ve greatly advanced our knowledge behind winemaking,” Brundrett said. “We’ve worked with several incredible people from Texas A&M who are really helping us raise the bar for Texas wines.”