A team of Washington State University researchers and technicians are chip budding grapevines as part of a rootstock trial.
The wine industry research gap is being debated at a national level as spending on wine research in the United States lags far behind the well-heeled efforts of countries like Australia. Washington State, grappling with its own wine research problems, is struggling to support growing industry research needs and to find ways to close the gap.
This issue of Good Fruit Grower takes a close look at Washington’s viticulture and –enology research program—from the program’s organization and oversight, funding and history, to its strong points and weaknesses—and what industry is doing to strengthen its program. A wide variety of views are represented in the following stories, including those of growers, wine producers, and –Washington State University researchers and administrators.
Through the years, Washington’s grape research program has addressed important industry issues. A number of viticultural and enological successes have stemmed from research projects (see "Research Successes" below).
In terms of federal dollars, the industry has done well the last five years garnering support for its plant improvement program, a program revitalized to improve access to certified, virus-free grapevine planting material. The recently approved omnibus federal budget bill contained $225,000 earmarked for the Foundation Block at WSU. The Foundation Block is the cornerstone of clean planting material, providing certified grape stock for the Pacific Northwest grape industry and serving as a repository for private selections.
Dr. Markus Keller, WSU viticulturist, said there are several funding sources for researchers to tap into. Researchers can submit proposals to the Wine Advisory Committee; the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research; the Concord Research Council; Washington State Pesticide Registration Commission; American Vineyard Foundation; the Viticulture Consortium, a federal research grant program administered jointly by Cornell University and the University of California; and others.
The Northwest Center for Small Fruits is a joint research program established by –Congress in 1980 that includes Oregon State University, Washington State University, University of Idaho, and the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"A strength is that we do have a lot of funding sources, and we can keep trying to find funds," Keller said. "But it ends up being a patchwork system. When you’re forced to apply to multiple sources, it can work against you. Groups don’t want to fund the project because they saw the same proposal elsewhere and think that someone else will fund it."
Submitting research proposals and writing research updates and progress reports all take time, he added. "A big problem for us