Associate Professor Ben Montpetit is the new chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology. (Jael Mackendorf/UC Davis)
Associate Professor Ben Montpetit is the new chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology. (Jael Mackendorf/UC Davis)

Ben Montpetit New Viticulture and Enology Chair

Montpetit to Focus on New Educational Offerings, Diversity and Investment

Ben Montpetit, a yeast geneticist and biochemist, is the new chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at University of California, Davis.

Montpetit joined UC Davis in 2016 and became department vice chair in 2021.

In his new role, he plans to enhance student offerings, continue to advance diversity efforts and foster investment in students, faculty, staff and department operations.

“We’re seen as the number one department in the world for viticulture and enology education and research,” Montpetit said. “The goal is to make sure we’re investing in our people and our research so that we can maintain that, ultimately creating the next generation of winemakers, viticulture researchers and future faculty members.”

A long legacy

The Department of Viticulture and Enology has a storied history. It was founded in 1880 at the UC Berkeley University Farm School and moved to Davis in 1933 when prohibition ended. The teaching, research and extension work helped reignite California’s wine industry.

Students learn in state-of-the-art facilities, work in the field getting valuable hands-on experience and take courses from experts respected around the globe. Faculty conduct research, teach and work with industry advancing our knowledge of viticulture and enology. Graduates are wine growers, makers, researchers and educators who are working in more than 20 countries and affiliated with companies that produce 85% of all wine made in the United States.

Montpetit, earned his Ph.D. at University of British Columbia and did his postdoctoral work at UC Berkeley before coming to Davis. His lab studies yeast in the context of wine and human health.

Potential new minors

One way Montpettit wants to enhance the student experience is considering the addition of two minors.

Viticulture and enology students take courses in microbiology, chemistry, engineering, plant biology, sensory science and other topics. Many of those subjects are majors on their own. He would like to create a viticulture and enology minor for students majoring in those topics who have an interest in the wine industry. For students in the department, he plans a minor in wine science and management in cooperation with the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics so that graduates have a sense of the business side of operations.

“There is an opportunity for someone in another major to have an interest in viticulture and enology and maybe see that as a career path in the future,” Montpetit said. “The wine industry is a very important and prominent industry in California and there are a lot of career opportunities in that space.”

Montpetit will also continue efforts to attract a diverse student body that will broaden opportunities on campus and in the industry as new generations enter the workforces.  “There’s always room to do more in that space,” he said.

That means expanding recruiting efforts to people who may not have been exposed to wine or viticulture and presenting it as a science-focused career path. 

Working with alumni, industry and other stakeholders to invest in campus facilities, programming and research is also high on his list.

“Not only is the wine industry an important economic component for California but there are issues like climate change that are really going to challenge the industry in the future,” he said.

Montpetit replaces Professor Dave Block, who served as chair for more than 12 years and will focus more on teaching, research and student training, as well as serve as director of the new Integrative Center for Alternative Meat and Protein at UC Davis.

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