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SOU climatologist elite in the world of wine

Climatologist Greg Jones of Southern Oregon University has joined Joseph Gallo, French Premier Nicolas Sarkozy and Bollinger chief Ghislain de Montgolfier on Decanter Magazine's Power List — the top 50 most influential people in the world of wine.

Jones, an SOU professor for 12 years — and son of Earl Jones of Abacela Vineyards and Winery in Roseburg — has pioneered the marriage of climatology and viticulture in Oregon and globally, making possible an understanding of the looming effects of climate change on the industry.

The Power List places Jones at No. 33. It will be published in Decanter, a British magazine and one of the top three influential magazines in the wine industry, in early to mid June, an event Jones called "humbling." Members of the list are chosen by international wine critics, merchants and wine insiders, Jones said.

At an interview at the SOU Environmental Studies Department, Jones said his father, a retired physician, got to Oregon first, created a winery and drew Jones, who was engaged in his PhD research, to the state to fill a huge need for data on which to predict growing times and varietals that would go with the state's many climates.

Jones petitioned the federal government for new and more specific appellations or names of geographical grape-growing areas for the Rogue and Umpqua Valleys and for Southern Oregon and set up a network of 29 reference vineyards in the Rogue Valley, which are monitored and serve as a fount of data for the industry.

Jones also contributed to the report of the International Panel on Climate Change, which, along with former Vice President Al Gore, was given the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. The IPCC scientifically established the connection between human activity and climate change, which, until then, had been denied in many quarters.

"I've had people say wine studies are superfluous and don't matter to society," Jones said. "Al Gore may have popularized global warming but people say it (the predictions of wine's future in a warmer world) may have greater impact. They bring the topic home and people understand it better."

Jones conducts applied research for the grape and wine industry in Oregon, has given hundreds of presentations on wine-related research in Oregon and all over the world and is the author of many journal and magazine articles, with two books in the works — on Oregon's terroir (soil, culture, climate and everything else that can affect a grape) and on climate and grapes.

"His contributions (to viticulture) are very foundational to our understanding the climate we're working in," said Harry Peterson-Nedry, owner of Chehalem Winery in Newberg. "We thought we knew it but he added a great deal of technical insight and he has an interest in the wine business. That's driven some of his passion. He's able to put across difficult concepts."

Jones built on global warming data to spell out implications for the future of Oregon wines, noted Peterson-Nedry, "and how varietal change is going to have to happen, as well as shifts to higher elevations for growing."

Dick Ellis, owner of Pebblestone Vineyards west of Phoenix said Jones' data on terrior and "growing degree days" have laid a baseline for grape growers, telling them clearly what will grow now and what will grow in warmer times.

Jones has had offers to work elsewhere but has chosen Ashland as the place to live and raise twin sons with his wife Liz, he says, because of quality of life here.

"And I felt extremely lucky to study something people have great interest in (wine), especially when it's an important aspect of society and brings in climate change. Very few climatologists were studying this," Jones said.

Jones' research and data have helped Southern Oregon wines branch out into a broad array of varietals to match the region's many mircro-climates, but he predicts a winnowing down to under 10 varietals in the coming decade or two.

His global warming research points to a one- to three-degree increase which will greatly exacerbate water supply issues and "any change beyond that will take us places we've never been before."