May 2021
Perfect grapevine flowers*
I’ve always felt that starting a new job is like watching a foreign movie in subtitles. At first, you’re desperately focused on the words on the screen, uncomfortably aware that the action is flying by as you struggle to keep up. Then suddenly, somewhere along the way, it starts to gel. You’re not clinging to the subtitles anymore. You’re in the flow it.

When I started this job four years ago in April, that’s exactly how I felt. Not only was there the language barrier (as a non-scientist, I had to learn a lot of research-ese), but NGRA isn’t the easiest organization to understand. It’s not that it’s complicated! It’s just not like other, similar organizations we work with.

Over time, the picture became clear. NGRA isn’t a grant-funding organization like the American Vineyard Foundation. It isn’t a professional society like the American Society for Enology and Viticulture. It’s not a trade association like the many state and regional groups we count as members. What is NGRA? Let me tell you…via this new five-minute presentation on our website!

As I explain there, NGRA is a nonprofit charitable organization that represents the research interests of the wine and grape industry—wine grapes, juice grapes, table grapes and raisins—nationwide. We bring together American grape growers, processors and wineries, federal research agencies, academic institutions and cooperative extension offices to improve our industry through science.

The presentation (and the refreshed “About NGRA” web page it’s posted on) explains how we’re structured and gives examples of the important work we’re doing right now. I hope it helps enlighten you and others about this vibrant, active, industry-driven organization I have the privilege to lead.

If you’re not already a member, I encourage you to join us. There’s a part for you to play in NGRA!
Donnell Brown
Photo by Joe Ogrodnick. See related article below.

Last Chance! ASEV-NGRA Precision Viticulture Symposium Is June 21
This month, the American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) issued a press release about our joint ASEV-NGRA Precision Viticulture Symposium, to be held virtually on Monday, June 21, 2021. The release calls out agenda highlights like the sessions in vine management, pests and diseases, and crop estimation and other decision-making tools; and the panel of innovative growers, early adopters of precision viticulture. It also highlights the keynotes by precision viticulture notables Nick Dokoozlian of E. & J. Gallo Winery and Rob Bramley of Australia’s Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), who is widely considered to be the father of precision viticulture. We're so pleased and proud to partner with ASEV to produce this powerhouse event!

View the newly updated agenda in at-a-glance PDF format and get complete symposium info.

Earlybird registration for the symposium ends June 15, 2021. For members of NGRA and ASEV, discounted tickets are $75 per person and FREE for student members. At $125 for non-members, they're still a steal, thanks to funding from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and a Grapevine Sponsorship by Turrentine Brokerage. Register now!
President's Budget Boosts Ag Research
President Joe Biden’s budget for fiscal year 2022, released May 28, 2021, includes an increase of $4 billion, or 16.7%, to $27.9 billion, for agriculture. The budget also includes nearly $1 billion over the next 10 years to increase adoption of net-zero agriculture technology. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted that, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the President’s budget increases funding for climate smart agriculture, climate resilience and clean energy by nearly $1.5 billion, including addressing the underlying conditions of drought that are leading to longer, hotter fire seasons. And it also directs $4 billion to USDA’s critical research, education and outreach programs. At the National Science Foundation, the budget enhances fundamental research and development to the tune of $9.43 billion, an increase of $1.55 billion above the 2021 enacted level.
Jewel Bronaugh Confirmed as Deputy Ag Secretary
This month, the Senate confirmed Jewel Bronaugh as Deputy Secretary of the USDA. She is the first Black woman and woman of color to serve in the role. Dr. Bronaugh was previously Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Prior, she served as Virginia State Executive Director for the USDA Farm Service Agency and Dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University.
Grape Research Gets Industry Funding
Two top industry-led funding programs, both run by NGRA member-organizations, announced their awardees in the last few weeks: the Washington State Wine Commission (WSWC) and the American Vineyard Foundation (AVF).
The WSWC was able to provide $1,120,000 in research grants for 25 projects for its upcoming fiscal year (July 2021-June 2022). Research grant awards have grown by 30% since 2015, thanks to the growth of the Commission’s research program and Auction of Washington Wines, a contributor to Washington State University’s viticulture and enology program. Some of the new projects the Commission funded include surveying for a potential leafmining pest of Washington vineyards, developing a mobile app to help growers detect lag phase and identify viral symptoms, assessing use of a sensor-based irrigation system applied to surface and subsurface drip irrigation, and evaluating sustainable ways to control grape mealybug and the grapevine leafroll virus it spreads.

From a whopping 72 proposals, the AVF selected 18 projects for new funding totaling $1,186,400. Funded projects range from “Sudden Vine Collapse” and “Evaluating Candidate Traits for Drought Tolerance” to “Baseline Smoke-Taint Volatiles and Glycosides.” AVF relies on voluntary industry contributions to support ongoing research and to provide funding for new high-priority projects. Acknowledging the challenges of the last year, AVF Chairman Tony Stephen expressed pride “that our members maintained such generous support through difficult times.”
Remember, NGRA maintains a running list of all funded grape research in America. Find these projects and more listed there.
New Cornell AgriTech Fellowship Named for Bruce Reisch
An anonymous gift of $1.5 million will create an endowed graduate student research fellowship program at Cornell AgriTech. Funding from the program will be used to support grad students whose research contributes to improved grapevines and could come from all disciplines at Cornell AgriTech. At the donor's request, the fellowship will be named the Bruce Reisch 1976 Graduate Fellowship in Grapevine Improvement after Bruce Reisch ’76, professor in both the Horticulture Section and the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 
Growth Illustrated
How do you explain dormancy to non-growers? What does lag phase look like? Now you can use this "Grapevine Annual Cycle" from the California Table Grape Commission to illustrate and explain the stages of grapevine and grape development.

Say It with Flowers:
Demystifying the Perfect Grape Flower
By Erin Rodger, Cornell AgriTech

Flower sex is an important factor in breeding grapevines. Female flowers set fruit, but produce sterile pollen. Males have stamens for pollen, but lack fruit. The hermaphroditic, or "perfect," flower carries both sex genes and can self-pollinate. These hermaphroditic varieties generally deliver bigger, more reliable yields and better-tasting fruit, and they’re the ones researchers need for breeding commercially viable vines.

Today, most cultivated grapevines are hermaphroditic, whereas all wild members of the Vitis genus have only male or female flowers. As breeders try to incorporate disease-resistance genes from wild species into new breeding lines, the ability to screen seedlings for flower sex has become increasingly important. And since grape sex can’t be determined from seeds alone, breeders spend a lot of time and resources raising vines, only to discard them years later upon learning they’re single-sex varieties.

But how did those hermaphroditic varieties get that way in the first place? It’s a genetic exchange so rare that it’s only happened twice in nature in the last 6 million years. And never before, in the 8,000 years since the domestication of the grapevine, has it been explained or understood.

Now, the multi-institutional team of scientists behind the NGRA-supported VitisGen project has identified the DNA markers that determine grape flower sex. In the process, the group also pinpointed the genetic origins of the perfect flower. The findings were published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

“This is the first genomic evidence that grapevine flower sex has multiple independent origins,” said Jason Londo, corresponding author of the paper and a research geneticist in the USDA-ARS Grape Genetics Research Unit, and adjunct associate professor of horticulture in Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

In the study, the team examined the DNA sequences of hundreds of wild and domesticated grapevine genomes to identify the unique sex-determining regions for male, female and hermaphroditic species. They traced the existing hermaphroditic DNA back to two separate recombination events, occurring somewhere between 6 million and 8,000 years ago.

Many wine grapes can be traced back to either the first or second event gene pool. Cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Thompson seedless are all from the first gene pool. The pinot family, sauvignon blanc and gamay noir originate from the second. Chardonnay and riesling uniquely carry genes from both events, indicating that ancient viticulturalists crossed grapes between the two gene pools, which created some of today’s most important cultivars.

Why is this breakthrough important? In short: time and money. “Having genetic markers to tell you the flower sex signature every vine has will enable grape breeders to select the exact combinations they’re shooting for,” Jason said. Ultimately, that will speed cultivar development and reduce the costs of breeding programs. Not just in America, but worldwide.

“The grape and wine industry spans the globe,” said UC Davis’ Dario Cantu, a co-author of the paper, “so we feel it is important to make all discoveries publicly available.” The genomes of this and other projects can be found at, which is maintained by the Cantu Lab at UC Davis. Sequencing data have been deposited in the National Biotechnology Information Sequence Read Archive. And source code for flower sex prediction is available via Cornell Bioinformatics. (See the PNAS paper for access details.)

Thanks to this work, innovative varieties with traits of interest and need will be available to growers faster than ever before. As grape breeders work their magic, not every new selection will be perfect. But their flowers will be.

Funding for this study was provided by a Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant from USDA-NIFA.

This article was excerpted from the original article, “Grape Genetics Research Reveals What Makes the Perfect Flower,” published in the May 12, 2021, edition of the Cornell Chronicle. 
Funding Opportunities
Sharpen your pencils! These grant programs have upcoming deadlines.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Conservation Innovation Grants: This year, NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) will focus on climate-smart strategies for water resources, soil health (focused on carbon sequestration and climate resilience), nutrient management, grazing lands conservation and strategies to increase conservation adoption. Deadline is July 19, 2021.

Conservation Innovation Grants: On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials: On-Farm Trials, part of the agency’s CIG program, feature collaboration between NRCS and partners to implement on-the-ground conservation activities and then evaluate their impact. Incentive payments are provided to producers to offset the risk of implementing innovative approaches. Deadline is June 21, 2021.

May 19, 2021 | Western Farm Press
It may seem counterintuitive, but flooding may be the answer to lack of water. Research by Helen Dahlke, a hydrology professor at UC Davis, suggests that flooding vineyards and other ag lands in winter, when excess water is available, could recharge groundwater and ease drought impacts.

May 18, 2021 | Western Farm Press
Western Growers has selected 13 companies specializing in ag robotics, mechanization and automation to lead its initiative to automate at least half the West Coast's specialty crop harvest by 2030.

May 18, 2021 | Good Fruit Grower
Microbial biologist Mary Wildermuth of UC Berkeley is studying how to “turn off” powdery mildew’s mode of infection at the genetic level, via RNA interference, or RNAi. (Another term for this approach is spray-induced gene silencing, or SIGS.)

May 17, 2021 | Cornell Chronicle
Cornell University scientists have developed a smartphone app for yield prediction. It's used at night to video vines, and machine learning is applied to the uploaded images to render an estimate. The system, which can be used to predict yield early in the season, will be field-tested this summer.

May 13, 2021 | Uncharted Wines and Spirits
Most would say that climate (and lately, climate change) is the biggest influence on grape growing. But, says WineAmerica's Jim Trezise, an NGRA Board member, "people often forget that the business climate determines how good the industry can be in terms of growth and profitability." Read this interview with Jim for lessons learned over nearly 40 years in the grape and wine industry.

May 10, 2021 | Heritage Acres Market
What, exactly, does a plant pathologist do? David Gadoury of Cornell University talks about his small but important profession, noting that there are only about 600 plant pathologists on faculty at U.S. universities.

May 6, 2021 | Cornell CALS
How old are climbing woody vines? Based on an 18.5 million-year-old fossil found in Panama, researchers say twisty vines (this one is thought to be a new species of liana from the soapberry family) have been evolving since the Miocene period.

May 2021 | Vine to Wine, Oregon Wine Research Institute
Research from the Shreiner lab at Oregon State University shows that, contrary to common belief, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) do not improve grapevines' nitrogen (N) uptake, but rather the application of N to vineyard soils can reduce the benefits AMF provide.

April 27, 2021 | Growing Produce
Monarch Tractor debuted its (and the world's) first fully electric, driver-optional, smart tractor last month at Wente Vineyards. It has 10 cameras on board, plus capabilities for machine learning and data analysis, and removes "emissions equal to 17 cars" each from vineyards.

April 21, 2021 | ASEV Catalyst
Prepping for vineyard mechanization ideally starts before grapevines are planted. Things to consider include site uniformity, available equipment, inter- and in-row spacing, headland size, trellising, irrigation, cultivar selection and more. Here, UC scientists Matthew Fidelibus and Kaan Kurtural provide a complete checklist.

April 15, 2021 | Vineyard Team
"What, bury charcoal in the vineyard?" That's the title of this podcast in which Monterey Pacific's Doug Beck explains how biochar, a specialized form of charcoal, can improve vineyards' nutrient efficiency, water-holding capacity and yield.

April 14, 2021 | UCCE San Joaquin Valley Trees and Vines
What impact does smoke have on grapes and grapevines? Three UCCE San Joaquin Valley extension specialists give their observations from the smoky, ashy 2020 season. One interesting datapoint of many: During these smoke events, depending on the thickness of smoke, sunlight on the canopy was cut by as much as 80%, to well below the levels of photosynthetic radiation grapevine leaves need.

April 2021 | WSU Viticulture and Enology Extension News
In cool research on heat management in grapevines, Ben-Min Chang finds that vines acclimated to cooler temps are more susceptible to the shock of sudden heatwaves, causing the rate of photosynthesis to drop as much as 73%.

March 29, 2021 | Penn State News
Up, up and away? Research from Penn State seeks to use spotted lanternflies' attraction to--and, for flight, need for--tall objects to "possibly thwart, future threats from this pest," says PI Tom Baker.

March 2021 | Virginia Cooperative Extension Viticulture Notes
Virginia Tech Viticulture Extension Specialist Tony Wolf explains the state's emergence of the 17-year cicada Brood X in mid-May. "There are at least 5 distinct broods that emerge in Virginia over a multi-year period, offering 'listening pleasure' to residents of the state on a recurring, 17-year basis," he writes. Referring to the map in the article, he adds, "It’s worth noting which broods, and which emergence years occur in your locale, as the cicadas have the potential to cause shoot/cane damage to vineyards and other woody vegetation."

Autumn 2021 | Winetitles (PDF courtesy of the Australian Wine Research Institute)
Researchers at the AWRI explored the use of mid-infrared (MIR) spectroscopy as a rapid screening tool for grapes and wine exposed to wildfire smoke. The results show promise, but more work is needed.

February 11, 2021 | National Science Foundation
Many believe that global temperatures today don't exceed those of the Holocene era. But a team led by Rutgers University reconstructed the temperature record, finding that today's temps are the warmest of the past 10,000 years and affirming the role of greenhouse gases in climate change.

December 9, 2020 | Futurity
Moths use their antennae to sense chemicals around them and navigate toward food sources or potential mates. So scientists from University of Washington put them to use on a tiny drone. “From a robotics perspective, this is genius,” says one author.

December 2011 | Cornell CALS
If you geek out on numbers (and/or wine), you'll love this from-the-archives article by Cornell University Extension Enologist Chris Gerling. Here, he calculates the pounds of grapes per bottle of wine, number of grapes per bottle, and tons of grapes per acre.

Find these stories and more, published daily, on NGRA's Facebook and Twitter feeds.

June 1, 2021
Fits Like a Glove: Monitoring Powdery Mildew and What That Can Tell us About Qol Fungicide Resistance - Sarah Lowder, Oregon State University
Monitoring for SDHI Resistance in Grape Powdery Mildew - Nathalie Aoun, UC Davis
Shining a Light on Managing Botrytis Rot and Powdery Mildew - Alex Wong, Oregon State University

June 8, 2021
Harnessing Microbial Interactions During Winemaking to Reduce Spoilage Risks 
James Osborne, Oregon State University

June 21, 2021
Virtual event

June 21-24, 2021
Virtual event

June 28, 2021
NGRA Mid-Year Board Meeting
Via Zoom

July 7-8, 2021
Virtual event

July 14, 2021
Working with High pH Wines
Thomas Henick-Kling, Washington State University

August 5, 2021
What's in Your Brett Management Toolbox?
Charles Edwards, Washington State University

August 5-9, 2021
Denver, CO

Find all upcoming events on the NGRA website.

This monthly newsletter is provided as a service to the U.S. grape and wine industry.
If you're not a member of NGRA, please consider joining us.