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Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research funds new WSU wine research

Viticulture researchers at Washington State University will tackle vineyard and winery challenges, including red blotch virus, heat stress, and wine faults, with support from the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research (NCSFR).

The Center will fund four WSU viticulture and enology projects totaling $279,687 for 2020-2021, including research on the red blotch virus and how it impacts growing grapes; detection of wine faults using an electronic tongue; and how heat stress effects white wine grapes.

Sunrise with morning mist over scenic vineyard.
Research grants from organizations like the NCSFR allow for wine science collaborations across state lines.

Markus Keller, professor of viticulture at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (IAREC) at Prosser, has been studying the effects of heat stress on wine grape production.

“The Center’s financial assistance will allow us to test an innovative cooling system that mitigates heat stress on wine grapes, allowing us to evaluate its impact on the final wine,” he said.

Research at WSU Prosser IAREC shares historic roots with the Washington wine industry. Pioneering horticulturist Walter Clore experimented by planting varietal grapes in Yakima Valley soil. Known fondly as “the father of Washington wine,” Clore spent his career at Prosser IAREC until his retirement in 1976.

“I think that’s why the Washington wine industry and WSU have such synergy. It goes back decades.” said Inga Zasada, Research Leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Horticulture Crops Research Unit, who coordinates NCSFR funded projects. “We’re trying to do research that is important to the region. WSU researchers are truly trying to address the priorities of Washington wine growers.”

“We’re taking a regional approach to wine research, which is unique,” Zasada said. “Research translates across borders.”

Research priorities for 2020-21 were recently approved by the Wine Research Advisory Committee, a subcommittee of the Washington State Wine Commission. The Research Advisory Committee serves as the scientific review arm for the Washington State Wine Commission.

Sara Spayd and Walt Clore share an experimental bottle of wine inside a wine library.
Sara Spayd and Walt Clore share an experimental bottle of Limberger from the wine library at Prosser.

Established by the legislature in 1987, the Washington State Wine Commission represents every licensed winery and grape grower in Washington state. The state government agency is guided by an appointed board, whose members advocate for the Washington wine industry.

Melissa Hansen, Research Program Director for the Washington State Wine Commission, said funding for research through NCSFR helps supplement the Washington wine industry’s support of research at WSU. The Center also funds research proposals from neighboring Oregon and Idaho.

Another valuable aspect of the NCSFR program is closer linkage between university and USDA researchers.

“It puts a regional focus on grape and wine research and serves as a way for the Washington, Oregon, and Idaho wine industries to work on shared problems and priorities,” Hansen said.