Cornell Researchers Win Federal Funding for Research to Bolster the Eastern United States Wine Industry

By Amanda Garris

Unpredictable rainfall, fertile soils, new varieties, and a young industry — there are many challenges to producing quality wine in the eastern United States.

Cornell researchers have been awarded more than $1 million to address these challenges in vineyard, winery and tasting room as part of $3.8 million grant from the federal Specialty Crop Research Initiative. The grant was obtained by a consortium of eastern researchers under the leadership of Virginia Tech Professor of Viticulture Tony Wolf.

"It was extremely valuable to hold meetings with stakeholders for strategic planning," says Anna Katharine Mansfield, assistant professor of Enology and co-investigator on the project. "We discovered that despite differences in climate and stages of industry development, people in the East prioritized the same things."

Mansfield's priority in enology is evaluating winemaking treatments to produce quality wine, such as the effect of skin contact on the aroma of Riesling, Traminette and Gewurztraminer wines. She will also test methods — heat treatments and enzymes — to improve the phenolic profile of wine made from the red hybrid grapes Maréchal Foch and Corot Noir.

The planned viticulture research will address vine balance, fruit quality and vineyard site selection. Horticulture faculty Ian Merwin, Justine Vanden Heuval and Alan Lakso will assess how light and temperature in the canopy affect grape flavor, aroma and disease incidence in Riesling and Cabernet franc, in collaboration with plant pathologist Wayne Wilcox. In addition, Merwin and Vanden Heuval will evaluate cover crops as a means to improve vine balance and reduce nutrient and pesticide loss from the vineyard floor. Lakso will also develop tools to help growers improve vineyard site selection and estimate how large a crop a particular vineyard can adequately ripen.

Assistant Professor of Applied Economics and Marketing Brad Rickard will experiment with different advertising approaches to see how they influence consumers' interest in — and willingness to pay for — wines made in the eastern United States.

Several Finger Lakes vineyards, including Hosmer, Anthony Road, Bedient, Swedish Hill, and Lamoreaux Landing, are collaborating with the project by donating fruit or vineyard space. And during the five years of the project, the industry can expect to see new extension resources funded by the grant. Extension associates Jodi Creasap-Gee and Chris Gerling will boost the online information available to growers and winemakers, with new how-to videos, podcasts, e-bulletins and regular updates on the grant's research results.

Amanda Garris is a freelance writer.