Washington’s wine industry is part of a nationwide coalition addressing the research funding crisis, but it isn’t waiting for the national effort to fill its own research gaps. An industry task force has developed a strategic plan for research, including goals, priorities, and plan of action.
The Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers assembled the task force two years ago. The process began with more than 50 growers and wine producers attending meetings. A formal report is being –prepared, but an executive summary will be presented during the –association’s annual meeting this month.
The task force’s goal of tripling the economic impact and profitability of the Washington grape and wine industries by 2020 is purposely similar to the goal of the national coalition, the National Grape and Wine Initiative. Some research priorities identified by the task force will likely fit into the initiative’s list of research priorities.
The initiative was established in 2003 to identify the research needs of all involved in the grape industry, including table, raisin, juice, and wine producers, and find ways to better fund the research. A unified focus can help the industry coordinate research and funding, and eliminate –duplication among different state programs. It has already improved the partnership with U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists.
Vicky Scharlu, executive director of the grape growers’ Association, and Tedd Wildman, grower and member of the Washington Wine –Commission’s board of directors, serve on the initiative’s board.
"We’re all trying to take the industry forward," said Jim Holmes, vineyardist in Benton City, Washington. "If we look 20 years forward, we want to be able to still have a viable industry.
"Our research efforts are pitiful compared to the rest of the world," Holmes continued. "That’s the biggest problem, but it’s not just us. It’s a problem in California, and other U.S. grape-growing regions."
Holmes, who was involved with the task force and is now helping write the full report, explained that the committee began by finding out what the industry really wanted in terms of research and then laid out the cost and timeline needed to fulfill the proposed program. "We’ll then have a program that meets our primary needs."
He expects that after the industry has reviewed and provided feedback on the task force’s report, a plan of action will be developed, which might involve bringing the proposal before the state legislature for funding –support.
Holmes said that by putting the research priorities down on paper, the Washington wine and grape industry can see how they fit into national research priorities and may be able to better coordinate research objectives. "For example, if Penn State is doing grape virus work on the left hand, maybe we can work together and do the research work of the right hand."
He noted that in developing the research priorities, the task force used wine quality as a primary objective. "The overriding criterion was ‘how does it make the wine –better?’"
In the wine world, the importance of wine quality is obvious, Holmes said. "But there is a lot of research literature that doesn’t ever get to evaluating wine quality. Did the research make any difference in the wine? Why do a test or project if you can’t at the end tell a difference one way or another?"