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Finger Lakes Grape Growers' Convention Looks Ahead to Vintage 2011


By Amanda Garris

Steve Lerch
Steve Lerch, research support specialist with assistant professor of horticulture Justine Vanden Heuvel, demonstrates grape bud mortality evaluation to growers at the Finger Lakes Grape Growers Convention trade show.

Although the grapevines are still dormant for winter, Finger Lakes grape growers prepped for the 2011 vintage at the 60th annual Finger Lakes Grape Growers' Conference on March 4 and 5. Hosted by the Finger Lakes Grape Program, the meeting attracted nearly 300 grape growers, winemakers, extension educators and Cornell faculty for research updates and a forecast for the coming year.

"The conference gives us a chance to bring some of the latest viticulture, pest management, and business and marketing information to region's grape growers," said Hans Walter-Peterson, conference organizer and viticulture extension specialist. "It's also a chance for many growers to network with other industry members—the social aspects of the conference can be just as important as the information presented."

Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management (DSAEM) Professor Gerald White relayed good news about the 2010 season—New York grape production was 8% higher than average and traffic on the wine trails increased—but he cautioned that rising fuel and energy prices will drive up costs in 2011. Attention to the financial bottom line was a common theme to several of the talks on topics ranging from viticulture to virus management.

 "Working through the economics of viticultural practices is an important component of research now," said Justine Vanden Heuvel, assistant professor of viticulture, who spoke about her collaboration with DSAEM assistant professor Todd Schmit on whether the cost of vineyard practices—which produce higher quality grapes but at an increased cost to the grower—can be recouped with higher wine prices.

DSAEM assistant professor Miguel Gomez and student Shadi Atallah discussed the financial impact of grapevine leafroll virus disease—$9,695 to $16,014 per acre—and offered recommendations for minimizing their virus management costs over the life of a vineyard. A pilot project testing a labor-saving technology to estimate yield using sensors mounted on tractors was presented by Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory director Terry Bates.

The pest and disease management forecast for 2011 was presented by Entomology professor Greg Loeb and Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology associate chair Wayne Wilcox. Wilcox highlighted newly available fungicides which have proven effective in his field trials, and Loeb introduced two new insect pests expected to make their first appearance in New York this summer—the brown marmorated stink bug and spotted wing drosophila (fruit fly).

"Based on work in other states, we know that both species will feed on grapes, but it is still unclear how much damage they will cause," said Loeb. "The better informed growers are—recognizing what these insect look like, their pest potential and possible control measures—the better they will be able to make sound pest management decisions."

Walter-Peterson said that his goal was for every attendee to find at least one nugget of information that can make their business a little bit more successful, including new resources developed by Cornell.

He introduced a satellite vineyard mapping project that identifies the locations of all Finger Lakes vineyards and the varieties in each block, to help with market forecasting.  Assistant professor of food science Gavin Sacks explained a new, inexpensive method to detect residual sulfur—a popular fungicide for both conventional and organic grape growers but a potential source of noxious aromas in wine. And Entomology professor Andrew Landers gave attendees a glimpse of vineyard management in the future: GPS-guided, automatic steering systems for tractors which will allow farmers to multi-task as they spray or mow.

The Finger Lakes Grape Program is a regional extension program of Cornell Cooperative Extension serving the grape and wine industry of the Finger Lakes.

Amanda Garris is a freelance writer in Geneva, N.Y.