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BRIEFS

USDA Renews Funding for Northern Grapes Project

by Chrislyn Particka

The Northern Grapes Project received an additional $2.6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative to complete the final two years of the multistate effort, which began in 2011. 

The project focuses on growing extremely cold-hardy wine grape varieties that are new to both growers and consumers, creating a rapidly-expanding industry of small vineyard and winery enterprises.  Dr. Tim Martinson, Senior Extension Associate at Cornell University, leads the project team, which includes research and Extension personnel from 10 institutions in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. 

“New producers are spread across 12 states, most without an established wine industry,” said Martinson. “By working together on growing, winemaking, and marketing issues, the Northern Grapes project team provides more resources to producers than would be available if each state had its own effort.  Our goal is to provide them with information that will save them years of trial-and-error in producing high-quality products that consumers prefer”

The new varieties have growth habits and flavor profiles that are quite different from well-known varieties. So the project’s researchers have been working to determine the best ways to grow them, turn them into flavorful wines, and market those wines in local and regional markets.

In the first three years of the project, team members invested heavily in field and laboratory trials, surveyed consumers and industry representatives, and provided outreach programming to an aggregate audience of more than 7,000.  

“The continued success of this project in obtaining funding is testament to the team’s exceptional productivity and to how this project has impacted grape production in climates where wine grapes were seldom grown before,” said Dr. Thomas Burr, Director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.

“As a producer, having scientists involved is especially valuable to us as they are conducting rigorous tests to back up our hunches and our theories,” said Dave Greenlee, a project advisory council member  and co-owner of Tucker’s Walk Vineyard in Garretson, S.D. Greenlee cites trials of various trellising systems in vineyards and sensory evaluations of wines using yeast strains in the lab. “These save us time and help us improve our products,” he points out.

The grant was funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative, which supports multi-institution, interdisciplinary research on crops including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and ornamentals.  The project includes personnel from Cornell University, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska, the University of Vermont, and the University of Wisconsin.