WSU research vineyard hosts tour
Washington State University's new research vineyard is the cleanest in the nation.
Inside the Northwest Grape Foundation Service's greenhouse, Gary Ballard explains how shoot tip culture propagation works to grow a new plant.
Washington State grape growers saw the newest generation of Northwest certified grape plants and heard the latest research news during a recent viticulture and enology field day sponsored by the Washington State Grape Society.
The event was held in mid-August at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser to showcase research efforts by Washington State University scientists and graduate students. Industry members toured WSU’s new wine grape research plot, research winery, and greenhouse facilities of the Northwest Grape Foundation Service.
The new research vineyard and research winery is part of a master plan for Washington’s grape industry, said Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU’s viticulture and enology program. The plan incorporates a future research teaching vineyard and research winery at WSU’s Tri-Cities campus and expanded research winery and laboratory facilities at Prosser.
New research vineyard
The brand new research vineyard, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Riesling varieties planted in the eight-acre block, was funded through grants, said Dr. Markus Keller, WSU viticulturist. WSU used mist-propagated, potted plants grown from green shoot cuttings by Inland Desert Nursery of Prosser. Planting started in May and finished in late July. Syrah will be the next variety planted.
Keller is pleased with the initial growth of the new vineyard. The mist propagation was done by Inland Desert as a way to quickly get certified material from the Foundation Service into the field. The young vines, screened for crown gall and other grape viruses, are the first generation of plant material to come out of the Foundation Service, and are the “cleanest” in the nation, according to Keller.
Vineyard location was chosen carefully in hopes of keeping grapevine leafroll virus from moving in. The vineyard is surrounded by hops and has a buffer zone of 200 feet from the nearest grapes. Keller said they will spray for disease-carrying insects and conduct ongoing tests to monitor the block’s disease-free status.
WSU’s older research block had lived out its useful research life, said Henick-Kling. “To be able to replant the new research vineyard with clean plants is outstanding,” he said. “There isn’t another research vineyard that’s clean like this, perhaps in the world. I know that Australia doesn’t have this.”
In the past, WSU scientists didn’t have vineyard space to have big enough replications of treatments to follow the fruit through WSU’s research winery. “We want to know if what we do in the vineyard makes a difference in the wine,” Keller said. “To be able to go all the way from the soil to the glass was lacking in the past.”
New research winery
The field day included a tour of the relatively new research winery built two years ago to replace a smaller one. The winery, which houses nearly 100 stainless steel tanks ranging in size from 100 to 1,000 liters, will experience its second crush this season.
WSU extension enologist Dr. James Harbertson discussed preliminary results of a multi-year, collaborative wine grape rootstock project he conducted with Keller. The trial involved studying viticultural differences of rootstocks as well as their influence on wine. Following three varieties of grapes harvested from five rootstocks grown in three different sites—and turning it all into wine—was very tedious work, Harbertson said. “All of the wine had to be made in a controlled manner, under the same conditions.”
In the end, vintage and variety appeared to be bigger wine variables than the particular rootstock, he noted. A report on the rootstock trial that includes both viticulture and enology aspects will be released later.
WSU entomologist Dr. Doug Walsh reported on the spotted wing drosophila. Low numbers of the fruit fly have been found in traps placed this summer in juice grapes, but not wine grapes. WSU has prepared a bulletin to help growers monitor, identify, and control the new pest.
WSU's new research vineyard provides room for trials to be done on a large enough scale to be followed from field to bottle.