IN MEMORIAM: Ralph Kunkee and 'Dick' Rice

Ralph Kunkee
Professor emeritus, viticulture and enology

The Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis, will hold a memorial service Saturday, Jan. 7, for Professor Emeritus Ralph Kunkee, an expert on the role of yeast in winemaking.

Kunkee died Nov. 12 from complications of cancer, at the age of 84.

He came to UC Davis in 1960 as a research biochemist in the Pesticide Residue Research Unit. He joined the viticulture and enology faculty in 1963, and, after retiring, calculated that he had taught more than 1,000 students in his specialty laboratory course: Microbiology of Winemaking. Most of those students are now working as winemakers throughout California and around the world.

Friends and colleagues recalled Kunkee’s infectious love of life and learning, and legendary hospitality.

The memorial service will begin at 11 a.m. in the UC Davis Conference Center, and will be followed by a celebration of life from noon to 3 p.m. in the Sensory Building of the nearby Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

RSVPs are requested: online or by telephone to the Department of Viticulture and Enology, (530) 752-0380.

Kunkee’s research focused on how the microbiological aspects of winemaking could be better controlled by increasing fermentation efficiency while also maximizing quality.

He was particularly interested in malolactic fermentation, the secondary fermentation that takes place in winemaking, and in practical methods for identifying and controlling yeasts and bacterial strains that can spoil wines.

Kunkee’s studies involving the characterization, description and use of various yeast strains produced data that are now standard winemaking tools in the global wine industry. He discovered a strain of yeast responsible for causing sluggish or “stuck” alcoholic fermentations. The strain was later named Lactobacillus Kunkeii in his honor.

He co-authored two textbooks on enology (the science of winemaking) and published nearly 150 scientific articles.

Colleagues noted how Kunkee, by urging winemakers to use sterile filtration and bottling to improve wine stabilization, played a significant role in the transition of the American wine preference from high-alcohol appetizer wines to the lower-alcohol modern table wines.

Kunkee had visited all of the major wine-growing regions of the world, and spent 12-month sabbaticals in two of them: Germany and France.

Born July 30, 1927, he was raised in Atascadero and graduated from Atascadero Union High School in 1945. He served in the Navy, then earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in biochemistry from UC Berkeley in 1950 and 1955.

He worked as a research biochemist for Du Pont in Wilmington, Del., before coming to UC Davis.

He was preceded in death by his partner, Thomas Flynn, and is survived by his niece, Marlena Weden of Pleasant Hill, and nephews, Patrick Kunkee of Nashville, Tenn., and Ron Andrews of San Diego.

Memorial donations may be made to the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, with checks made out to the UC Regents and mailed to the Department of Viticulture and Enology, University of California, One Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616, with a note “in memory of Professor Ralph Kunkee.” Donations may also be sent to Yolo Hospice, PO Box 1014, Davis, CA 95617 or the American Cancer Society through the society’s online site.

Richard ‘Dick’ Rice
Entomologist emeritus

Entomologist Richard “Dick” Rice, a UC Davis alumnus who worked at UC’s Kearney Agricultural and Extension Center for 33 years, died Dec. 24 of cancer. He was 74.

He retired in 2001, receiving emeritus status with UC Davis, and remained active as a consultant to several agricultural industry commissions.

He received three degrees at UC Davis: a bachelor’s in 1960, a master’s in 1961 and a doctorate in insect ecology and agricultural entomology in 1967.

Rice worked closely with the Central Valley tree fruit and nut industries on a number of significant insect and mite pests over his career, becoming especially noted for his research on trapping and monitoring systems for San Jose scale, peach twig borer, navel orangeworm, oriental fruit moth, codling moth, omnivorous leafroller, and a number of pistachio- and almond-attacking Hemipterans.

UC Davis entomology professor Frank Zalom credited Rice’s research for helping to make California producers a dominant force in world markets today.

“His contributions cannot be overstated,” Zalom said. “He was an early innovator in using management approaches to regulatory and quarantine entomology, focusing on developing acceptable programs for exporting California’s fruit to other countries through cultural management and monitoring while minimizing the use of disruptive and environmentally harsh interventions.”

He served on the federal-state Medfly Science Advisory Panel, and on science advisory committees for the California avocado, citrus, stone fruit, nut and olive industries. He was an active member of the Entomological Society of America, serving as president and secretary-treasurer of the Pacific Branch.

Rice was born Sept. 5, 1937, in Dinuba (Tulare County). He served as a medical entomologist in the Army for two years in between his master’s and Ph.D. studies.

He is survived by his wife, Carol; children, Kevin Rice, Kim Lindell and Kari Bettencourt; stepchildren, Scott Lewis and Cari Hager; and three grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the Kingsburg Cancer Volunteers, P.O. Box 26, Kingsburg 93631; the Alta District Historical Society, P.O. Box 254, Dinuba 93618; or the Nancy Hinds Hospice, 1616 W. Shaw Ave., Suite C-1, Fresno 93711.

A celebration of life is planned at a later date.

Media Resources

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,

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