German-born Thomas Henick-Kling developed an interest and appreciation for wine at a young age. When he was just 16, he began accompanying his wine-loving father, a justice of the peace in a lower court, on wine-buying trips, tasting and buying wines from local producers. (In Germany, 16-year-olds can legally drink wine, he says.)
“I always liked wine, but to get into the industry, it’s kind of a European thing that you have to be born into it. My father wasn’t a grower or winemaker, so I didn’t pursue it.”
His interest in wine was later piqued while he was studying abroad as a geology student at Oregon State University. He discovered Oregon’s wine industry—all 12 wineries at the time—while doing a paper on the state’s wine industry. In America, he found the freedom to study wine and microbiology unlike in Europe. He obtained his master’s degree in microbiology from OSU.
Continuing to gain international wine experience, Henick-Kling obtained his doctorate from the University of Adelaide in Australia and worked at the Australian Wine Research Institute, a research and extension entity funded by industry and government. He worked for three years at the Institute in the mid-1980s, then joined Cornell University to develop a new viticulture and enology undergraduate program. After being part of the phenomenal growth in New York’s wine industry, he returned to Australia in 2007 to strengthen the research program at the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre at Charles Sturt University. By coming back to Australia two decades later, he witnessed how a strong research and extension program helped transform the industry from a bulk wine producer to an exporter of premium wines. He joined Washington State University this spring as director of its viticulture and enology program.
While Henick-Kling has had opportunity to return to Europe for sabbatical work and research collaboration, he admits that it would be hard to live again in Europe. “I love going there to visit, but I don’t want to work or live there,” he said. “I’m pretty American now.”