Chas Nagel, Wine Pioneer, Dies

Chas W. Nagel, a Washington State University scientist who helped teach Washington how to make and taste premium wines, died here Thursday, July 5, 2007. He was 80.

“Chas Nagel, Walter Clore and Ray Folwell were the pioneers of Washington State University’s work in catalyzing the wine industry in Washington,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. ”They laid the groundwork for what has become one of the state’s largest agricultural industries and one of the country’s premier winemaking regions.”

Nagel, a food scientist, made and tested wines from experimental grapes grown by the late Walter Clore, a horticulturist at the WSU Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center. Folwell, an agricultural economist, who retired May 31, examined the economics of establishing and operating vineyards and wineries and conducted a landmark national wine marketing study to examine consumer behavior.

He was the competent scientist who did good research,” said Folwell, who worked with Nagel for 25 years and was a friend for much longer. “He was an honest researcher. He was perfectly honest with the industry and forthright with his recommendations.”

For years, starting in 1964, Nagel ran a consumer taste panel in Pullman made up of faculty and spouses. “They were taught to recognize sugar content versus acid, bitterness, astringency and spoilage problems,” Nagel said. “They had the rudiments of tasting but they weren’t very sophisticated. One of my best tasters was a non-drinker.”

He was born in St. Helena, Calif., Dec. 8, 1926. He earned a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology from the University of California, Berkley, in 1950 and a doctorate in microbiology from the University of California, Davis, in 1960.

He worked as a bacteriologist for the U.S. Army from 1951-1952 at the U.S. Army Dugway Proving, Dugway, Utah. As a laboratory technician at the University of California Davis, from 1952 to 1954, he investigated the effects of environmental conditions on fermentation of cucumbers and olives. He was a cooperative agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Department of Poultry Science at the University of California, Davis, from 1954 to 1960.

Nagel came to WSU in 1960 as an assistant professor of horticulture. Among other things, he studied the effect of sugar on the perception of acidity in wines and juices. He left WSU in 1971 to become director of research for United Vintners Inc., in Asti, Calif. He returned to WSU in 1974 as a professor and food scientist, retiring in 1993.

In 1983 was elected a fellow of the Institute of Food Technologists and as Supreme Knight of the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine. The Tri-Cities Wine Festival Committee established the Nagel Award in 1980 to recognize the best wine entered. In 2000, Charles Edwards, WSU professor of food science, named a novel species of bacteria isolated from a wine for the wine pioneer: Lactobacillus nagelii.

“He will be greatly missed both for his efforts in the laboratory as well as in the classroom,” Edwards said. “He was a good friend and an outstanding individual. It was an absolute privilege to have known him.”

He is survived by his wife Bea of 56 years; sons Robert of Pullman, and William of Las Vegas; daughters Kathy Deuel of Steilacoom, and Liza Nagel, Albuquerque, N.M.; and Trish Niehl, University Place.

Memorials can be made to the Chas W. Nagel Scholarship in Food Science at Washington State University, P.O. Box 646228, Pullman, WA 99164-6228.

Chas Nagel, pionnering Washington winemaker