In an office at the University of Adelaide, sits a dog-eared copy of Dr Richard Vine’s Wine Appreciation.
For Dr Vinay Pagay, the gold-embossed tome is a quiet reminder of his unlikely journey from computer engineer to wine researcher.
As a young man, Dr Pagay was living the dream. After many hard years of study in India and then Canada – and a school exchange year spent in Oxford in the United Kingdom, studying and playing the tennis circuit – he had secured a great engineering job in telecommunications in Canada. It was steady work and offered a secure career path.
But a friend from the United States of America dropped over one night with a bottle of wine, and a subtle ‘sliding door’ scenario was set in motion.
‘My friend had undertaken a university wine appreciation course taught by Dr Vine and was full of enthusiasm. I guess it rubbed off on me, and I started attending a few wine courses of my own in my spare time’, Dr Vinay recalls.
‘One of my teachers told me about an undergraduate program at Brock University in Canada, and I made enquiries into that. But in the end, I decided to do the whole bit and undertook a four-year degree in Oenology and Viticulture.’
The course was initially a shock to Dr Pagay’s system.
‘There were only 10 of us in the class and nearly all but me had either family ties to a vineyard or experience working in one. So it really became my labour of love, because while I was good at science, I knew nothing about wine or the wine sector.’
Dr Vinay Pagay
The study bug eventually bit further, however, and Dr Pagay ended up at Cornell University in New York to do his Master’s and then a PhD.
In 2015, Dr Pagay was offered a job as Lecturer in Viticulture at the University of Adelaide and made the move to South Australia.
He says he loves his new lifestyle and the chance to continue his research interests.
‘I live with my wife in the hamlet of Woodside, in the Adelaide Hills. We have horses and go riding often and many of our friends are winemakers and growers. It’s a lovely lifestyle.’
Dr Pagay’s research interest is grapevine ecophysiology and climate change, focusing on advanced sensing technologies in vineyards.
Dr Pagay spent a vintage in the Coonawarra measuring and analysing Cabernet Sauvignon vines – from row orientation, light levels and plant water status to canopy, bunch temperature and berry composition.
His current research project is looking at making irrigation scheduling more efficient in vineyards using plant-based sensors. ‘Additionally, we have found techniques to mitigate against heat stress in vineyards using canopy misters and undervine sprinklers.’
Dr Pagay said he loves the research environment, because it combines all his passions: geography, biology, travel and food. ‘It’s an incredible combination.’
‘Every bottle of wine has a story – and I love that. When I open a bottle of wine I think about where it came from, where its roots began and took hold, and how the climate and environment influenced the vine and the fruit. Every season is different, and no two years are the same. I’m still learning from that every day, and I find that exciting.’