The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology
Viticulture Student Spotlight: Marnelle Salie
(July 1, 2022) - If you're a student, faculty or staff member with any ties to the Fresno State viticulture program, you are probably already familiar with recent graduate Marnelle Salie.
The Oakdale native has excelled in every phase the past four years as a Jordan College honors cohort member, Viticulture Club president, campus lab research assistant and other roles, too. Even though she had limited grape-growing experience growing up, Fresno State's commitment to hands-on training in its classes, campus vineyard, labs and industry connections have allowed her to quickly catch up and position herself for an exciting career path.
Read more about her current internship with E. & J. Gallo, and commitment to helping growers find more efficient and sustainable growing practices in this recent interview.
Q: Where are you from originally?
Salie: "I’m originally from Oakdale, CA. A small agricultural town two hours north of Fresno full of almond orchards and dairies, the Cowboy Capital of the World!"
Q: Why did you choose to attend Fresno State?
Salie: "I chose Fresno State because my heart fell head over heels for agriculture. Ever since high school when I truly started working hand in hand with the ag industry, I learned how compassionate, hardworking, and relentless agriculture is to achieve their goal of feeding our world. When I was looking at colleges and toured Fresno State, I saw those same values exemplified here, and immediately I knew this was the place I was meant to be for my educational career."
Q: Why were you drawn to your department and degree field?
Salie: "Viticulture truly never caught my eye till senior year at Oakdale High School when I was trying to decide what college programs to apply to. I started to put the puzzle pieces together and figured out my passion for agriculture, inherent liking for science, and wonder about the complexity of winemaking . I learned this could all be combined for a degree in viticulture or enology. Once I got into the program, I found myself more interested in the agricultural part of production and focused on viticulture."
Q: Describe your honors cohort research project and how it will help the industry?
Salie: "My project studied the effects of calcium carbonate on anthocyanin development in sweet scarlet table grapes. We studied a newly released product from Oro Agri called OR-244B and its side effects on color formation of table grapes.
Salie: "I picked this topic because I firmly believe in the research and continued growth of finding more industry friendly sustainable practices for farmers to follow. My research project is studying the effects of a common calcium treatment which is primarily used to help control mold in the vineyard by strengthening cell walls in berries. Farmers deal with countless problems in their vineyards from mold, pests, diseases, to even having trouble coloring the berries. That last issue specifically occurs here in Central California where red skinned berries, like sweet scarlet, are reluctant to develop their famous ruby red color. If I can determine a correlation between calcium sprays and color development that could ultimately kill two birds with one stone, therefore reducing the amount of sprays a farmer does, increasing profits with disease control and color improvements, and decreasing overall costs."
Q: Which faculty member did you work with, and what type of guidance did they give you?
Salie: "I worked with Dr. Van Zyl from the Viticulture and Enology Department. She has been an amazing mentor, and I am so thankful for her continued guidance through my educational career. Some of the most important advice she has given me is to look at the whole picture. As researchers we can get focused on the minute details and data but the most important thing of all is being able to connect it to the bigger picture."
Salie: "The most important thing I have learned so far in this research is patience and diligence. The procedures for my project can be very tedious so being patient with the process is essential for not becoming stir crazy. I have also learned that if I don’t find a statistical difference between my data, that is still a result, and it tells a piece of story in this under-researched area of viticulture."
Q: How will this research help you on your career path?
Salie: "This research will significantly help me throughout the rest of my professional career. In recent years the agriculture industry has shifted towards questioning outdated conventional practices and trying to come up with more innovative sustainable applications following an ecological and scientific based approach. I feel like my passion for viticulture and experience in research will be a great asset when I enter the industry because it will allow me to make decisions with that new approach in mind."
Q: Describe any other research you've been involved with?
Salie: "I have also been involved with Jeremiah loyd’s master’s project on studying the effects of rot in wine; Garrett Morales’s master’s project on studying microbial populations in vineyards; Leah Grove’s master’s project studying the effects of calcium sprays on sweet scarlet grapes; Anthony Reyes’s master’s project studying the anthocyanin development for Pierce’s disease from the USDA; Dr. Van Zyl’s project studying anthocyanin development in crimson seedless; Salvador Pineda’s honors project studying the effects of a PGR spray for color development on crimson seedless; and also working with Dr. Sommer on method development for phenolic extraction."
Q: What were some of your favorite Fresno State classes?
Salie: "I loved the soils class with Dr. Benes because while it was challenging it was one of the most impactful classes in my education. Soils is a class where I went above and beyond to learn the most I could. In that dedication an interest in sustainable, regenerative agriculture, and agroecology ignited. I have carried those specialized interests with me throughout my courses at Fresno State and feel amble to apply them to real practical solutions in my future career."
Salie: "Viticulture 102 with Dr. Van Zyl was another favorite because this was my first class in viticulture at Fresno State, and this class really solidified my decision to be in the field of viticulture. I learned invaluable hands-on experience and had the best time with my fellow students in this course."
Q: What other faculty and staff have you worked with closely and enjoyed their mentorship?
Salie: "I have also worked closely with Dr. Stephan Sommer, the Director of the Viticulture and Enology Research Center. He has been an amazing mentor because of his vast experience in the viticulture and enology industry. He can always answer questions from the principles of irrigation management, how to calibrate a TA machine, to the chemical breakdown of polysaccharides in berries. He has been an incredible resource and I am so thankful for this support in my educational career."
Q: Do you receive any type of Jordan College scholarships?
Salie: "I am so fortunate to have been supported throughout my time here at Fresno State. Starting my freshman year, I got initial support from local businesses in my hometown of Oakdale, CA. Following my sophomore, junior, and now senior year I have been the recipient of multiple Ag One, FSSA, and local scholarships here at Fresno State."
Ag One: American Vineyard Magazine Scholarship
Dr. Vincent E. Petrucci Scholarship
Allied Grape Growers-Robert “Bob” McInturk Scholarship
Mike Ciccarelli Memorial Scholarship
Ron Radoicich Memorial Scholarship
Dr. Robert Wample Scholarship
Raisin Wives of California Grant
Penn Cummings Memorial/T.G. Schmeiser Scholarship
California State University, Fresno State Viticulture Club Scholarship
Fresno State Alumni Association-Campopiano Powe Families Scholarship
Harry and Nevart Moordigian Scholarship
John and Rose and Charles and Rose Garabedian Scholarship
Marc Radin Agricultural Scholarship
Horace O. Lanza Viticulture Grant
Orange County Wine Society Award
Q: What types of ag-related clubs have you been involved with on campus?
Salie: "I was extremely active in the Fresno State Viticulture Club. I joined freshman year to make friends in the department and quickly became invested in the club. Junior year I became President and had to be very creative in the adversity of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a senior I served my second term as President. It was a great experience. This leadership opportunity truly made my collegiate career unforgettable and helped me make connections in the industry."
Q: Have you had any internships or part-time jobs, and what types of jobs & tasks did you do generally?
Salie: "I have had two summer internships at Vino Farms in Lodi, CA. Vino Farms is a wine grape vineyard management company that specializes in sustainable farming on a very large scale. I worked as a Vit Tech for them the summers after freshman and sophomore year. I mainly worked under their viticulturist/PCA as a scout and sampler. On a normal day I would drive to their different properties and scout the vineyards for pests, diseases, weeds, mold, vigor, ripening, and so much more. I also sampled leaves and petioles to determine nutrient status so later in the season fertilizer recommendations could be made. When it came closer to harvest, I did cluster sugar sampling. I learned so much in those two summers about industry standards that were crucial to my education."
Salie: "I also had a part-time job with Dr. Van Zyl as a research assistant at the Viticulture and Enology Research Center on campus. At this job I work with master's students and help coordinate and execute their research projects, perform analytical tests for industry companies like Allied Grape Growers and Agajanian, and work with lab equipment to gather data on color development and harvest parameters."
Q: What skills or experiences did you gain from those experiences that they can apply to your potential career options?
Salie: "I learned a tremendous amount of soft skills, work experience, and industry expectations when I did my internships and currently in my part-time position. My experience at Vino Farms gave me practical situations where I was able to apply my classroom knowledge; it significantly helped me connect the gap between learning the principles of farming and seeing them everyday in the vineyard. My past supervisor at Vino Farms, Daniel Meyers, who is a Fresno State alumnus, was an amazing teacher. In my first internship with them I had no experience or real background knowledge of the viticulture industry and he answered all my hundred questions every day. My position as a campus research assistant has helped me with my team-working skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Both of my work experiences are the reason why I feel confident to continue my education for a M.S. in Viticulture and Enology and my viticulturist career after college."
Q: What is your background in agriculture before you started at Fresno State?
Salie: "I know this is rare, but I’m actually a first-generation agriculturist. Although I come from a small farming town in Central CA, I grew up in the suburbs. My mother is a hairdresser with her own salon and boutique of 30 years, and my dad a truck driver for over 25 years. Growing up in the city I always knew the impact agriculture had on my life but was never truly a part of the industry till I joined FFA my freshman year of high school. From there I fell in love with the agriculture industry and their mission to feed the world. I would never change my decision because I firmly believe that hard work cultivates results and in agriculture there is never a day off.
Q: Are there any other interesting notes about yourself that you would like to include?
Salie: "Apart from school I have many other hobbies and passions in life, first being horseback riding. I have been riding horses for over 10 years and owned horses for almost years. Currently I’m boarding my horse, Jo, on campus at the Equestrian Center. This sport has truly taught me the fundamentals of responsibility and accountability. On the weekends I take my horse to barrel races for local competitions but mainly she’s my little escape from reality. Whenever I feel stressed with school or work, I can turn to her and it will all be alright. Apart from horseback riding my other hobbies include water skiing, hunting, going on hikes, and being a plant mom to my numerous houseplants."
Q: Have you had to overcome any challenges or obstacles to get to where you are today that have shaped who you are?
Salie: "The COVID-19 pandemic has had and will have an everlasting impact on all aspects of life for everyone across the globe. The adversity the pandemic created has changed everything. For me, the pandemic hit spring semester of my sophomore year, it started out as an extension to spring break but quickly turned my whole education upside down. At the same time my family’s business was shut down, our health and livelihood were threatened, and I still needed to find a summer internship/job to support myself. Thankfully, my previous employer Vino Farms had not filled their internship position yet, and I was rehired for my second internship."
Salie: "The summer of 2020 was no breeze. While trying to navigate the beginnings of pandemic, my daily routine consisted of waking up at 3:30 every morning; driving 50 miles to Lodi, CA for my internship; working till 3:30pm; heading to Modesto to help my grandmother with grocery trips, doctor visits, or any errands to minimize her exposure; and then taking care of my horse in the evening. That summer was filled with very long hours and a lot of miles, but in the end, it showed me how tough I truly was. It showed me the depth of my work ethic and grit I have within myself to achieve any goals I set my mind to. In addition to that, I had the best support team around me: my parents, boyfriend, grandparents, family, and friends were always encouraging and uplifting during the toughest of times. Without them I would not be the individual I am today. The summer of 2020 shaped me into the resilient and hardworking person I am today because of the adversity, and unique circumstances the pandemic has brought on."
Q: What's your potential next career step, and how do you plan to use your degree with eventually?
Salie: "After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I will be moving back up to my home up in Stanislaus County and start working as a Grower Outreach Intern for E & J Gallo Winery in Lodi, CA. I will be working under Keith Striegler at E & J Gallo Winery who was the past chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at Fresno State. Ever since I connected with him through my research assistant position and Viticulture Club he has been a huge supporter. I am so excited for this opportunity to expand my knowledge and experience in the industry."
Salie: "After this six-month internship I will be returning to Fresno State in Spring 2023 to pursue my M.S. in Viticulture and Enology. I would love to keep with the same theme and continue researching practical industry-ready farming practices. After completing my education, I plan to get my PCA and CCA licenses, and become a vineyard manager for either a winery or vineyard management company here in the Central Valley."