The bug census: for healthy vineyards, research counts
When Ashley Johnson ventured into Washington’s vineyards last summer in search of pesky leafhoppers, the insects were almost nowhere to be found. That is, until she began receiving calls from organic grape growers.
“We didn’t realize that’s where we’d find them,” she said, “but the only people who reported they had leafhoppers were organic vineyards.”
As a viticulture and enology student, Johnson dove into entomology as part of her undergraduate research with WSU entomologists Laura Lavine and Doug Walsh. At the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, Wash., she was introduced to two pests that cause serious damage to Washington’s vineyards: Virginia Creeper Leafhoppers and Western Grape Leafhoppers.
When she spotted the insects, or their markings on the leaves, she sucked the adults up with a “bug vacuum.” If they were nymphs, she took them from field to the lab and delicately swept them with a paintbrush into vials.
She returned to an entomology lab Pullman in the fall with thousands of specimens and began to run them through a genetic analysis to look at their DNA. Since the two leafhoppers don’t start to look different from one another until they reach the adult stage, testing and knowing the variation in their genetic material can help viticulturists spot a potential problem early on.
“A lot of people out in the fields thought they had Western Grapes, but so farthe data shows there are a lot more Virginia Creepers,” she said. Which can be a problem for growers, she says, since Virginia Creepers are vectors of red blotch disease. Grape virologist Naidu Rayapati and his lab discovered red blotch disease and added it to the list of known grapevine disease last year.
“We’re hoping to one day be able to collect leaves, run them through a genetic analysis (PCR), spit out the data, and then immediately tell growers what the population’s genetic make-up is like in their vineyards,” Johnson said.
Both insects leave yellow speckles, called stippling, on the leaves, which makes it possible for growers to recognize their presence. Both types of leafhoppers also eat the leaves, which are used for photosynthesis and provide the plant with sugar and nutrients. So when the insects eat the leaves, the grape berries don’t get the sugar build up ultimately necessary for a quality winemaking process.
While Johnson graduated in May and left her leafhoppers behind, the impact of her work will continue to influence the wine industry where she now works. After graduating from WSU in May, she began her career working as a winemaker at Columbia Winery in Richland, Wash.
“It’s been a huge learning experience,” she said. “I’ve been really grateful to Doug and Laura and the college for the internship opportunity.”
Johnson’s undergraduate research was supported with funding from the WSU Viticulture and Enology Undergraduate internship program, the WSU CAHNRS undergraduate internship program, the Washington Wine Advisory Council, and the Washington Wine Commission
For more information on WSU research and extension involving viticulture, click here.
Reveling in Washington wine
On Memorial Day Weekend 2014, 30 people joined Dr. Henick-Kling, Director of the Viticulture & Enology Program for a Walking Vineyard Tour and tastings on Red Mountain, Benton City. The tour started at Kiona Vineyards and Winery with owner Scott Williams (’80), giving a history of the AVA and wine grape growing in the area. His father John Williams and Ciel du Cheval Vineyard’s owner, Jim Holmes, both engineers and scientists, planted the first vineyard on Red Mountain.
The tour continued with a look at the diverse vineyard plantings, varieties, and architectures where Vineyard Manager, Dick Boushey, showcased the uppermost reach of Red Mountain. Jim Holmes then led the group on a one-mile walking tour from the upper vineyards down through Red Mountain to his vineyards, Ciel du Cheval. After a fantastic lunch, Tim and Kelly Hightower, Hightowers Cellars, treated the group to a delicious wine tasting and a look at their estate vineyards. The final stop, Hedges Family Estate, featured Pete Hedges discussing their spectacular wines and the distinctive qualities of winemaking techniques ranging from the timing of harvest to the stylistic approach.
This was the second year the vineyard tour has been offered through the Auction of Washington Wines Revelry on Red Mountain, and is a great example how the WSU Viticulture and Enology Program continues to support Washington’s wine industry.
Pest management guide now available in Spanish
The new pocket version of the popular Field Guide for Integrated Pest Management in Pacific Northwest Vineyards is ready for on-the-ground use. The recently published mini guide includes the same effective color photos as its full-size counterpart, but the captions are bilingual.
Michelle Moyer, WSU statewide viticulture extension specialist, prioritized the accuracy and appropriateness of the translation from English to Spanish based on the specific area, topics, and audience the guide targets. Moyer hired a native Spanish speaker with an advanced agricultural science degree to translate and another native Spanish speaker with vineyard management field experience to evaluate the translation for cultural suitability.
More than 25 specialists in fields such as entomology, plant pathology, and viticulture contributed to the guide. The related institutions include Washington, Oregon, and Idaho’s land-grant universities, the region’s wine and juice grape industries, and the USDA.
Besides the reduced size and additional language, other new features are wire binding and water- and tear-resistant paper to withstand field conditions. Improved insect lifecycle schematics and measurement tools help with identification of the region’s vineyard pests, weeds, and diseases.
Free copies of the guide will be available to participants at various WSU viticulture extension events; the next two are the Grape Fieldman’s Breakfast on August 7 and the Washington State Viticulture Field Day on August 15. Copies are available for purchase at the WSU Extension Online Store.
For more information on wine and juice grape production and upcoming Viticulture & Enology events, visit WSU’s affiliated Research and Extension website.