August 2018
Advancing research to maximize the productivity, sustainability and competitiveness
 of the American grape industries.

From left: John Martini, Rich Smith, Stephen Nuske (foreground), Tony Stephen and Craig Bardwell,
exploring precision agriculture in May 2014

In 2003, visionary win e-industry leader Rich Smith of Paraiso Vineyards and Smith Family Wines joined with other forward-thinking colleagues to form the Winegrower's Critical Research Investment Initiative to address a growing crisis in research funding, and to develop a process for establishing research priorities that would mutually benefit the wine industry and academic and research organizations. Grasping that much more could be achieved through collective action, he and many others saw value in formalizing the organization and expanding it to include all industry sectors, launching the National Grape & Wine Initiative in 2005. This year, we renamed it the National Grape Research Alliance to underscore that research is at the heart of what we do, as founders like Rich envisioned.
In This Issue
Rich was eager to improve the wine and grape industry through research. "He thought of himself as a logical, process-oriented scientist and tinkerer," says his son Jason Smith, now an NGRA Board member and CEO of the Smith Family businesses. Yet Rich understood that not everyone shared his perspective on research issues, and welcomed the opportunity to debate and broaden others' thinking. "Rich and I didn't agree on genetic modification or gene editing--he was very much for it and I was very much against," recalls NGRA Vice Chair Rick Stark of Sun-Maid. "But he made me learn more about the subject so I could defend my position with facts. The thing is, we both respected each other and understood the other's position. I enjoyed him a great deal."
I regret that I never knew Rich Smith. He passed away in December 2015, succumbing to pancreatic cancer at only 69. In his too-short life, he was formative not only in NGRA, but also WineAmerica, Winegrape Growers of America (WGA) and many other organizations and institutions, including the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, where the family's grapes are grown.
Seeking to honor his legacy and nurture his example, NGRA together with WineAmerica, WGA and the Smith Family launched the Rich Smith Distinguished Service Award in 2016. It's a special honor that pays tribute to one of our industry's greatest advocates--a beloved leader who believed in the twin powers of science and collegial, collective effort to preserve and improve our industry. "Rich was a guy who showed up, stood up and spoke up," says John Martini of Anthony Road Wine Company, the first recipient of the award. It's humbling to be considered worthy of Rich Smith's legacy, said Pete Downs of Family Winemakers of California last year, when named the second-annual honoree.
Now it's time to name another.
Nominations for this year's Rich Smith Distinguished Service Awardare now open . Click to the award criteria and simple nomination form and make your nomination(s) by October 26, 2018. 

We look forward to recognizing another industry leader as we honor the memory of Rich Smith. And we're proud to stand as part of the science-inspired legacy he left behind.
Donnell Brown

On July 26, the California Table Grape Commission, turned 50! In recognition of the milestone, California Department of Food and Agriculture S ecretary Karen Ross presented a resolution to the organization commemorating 50 years of service to the state and its residents. The resolution notes that, "since its first meeting in 1968, the commission has served the public interest by providing the leadership, promotion, and research needed to turn a small struggling industry into a mainstay of the state's agricultural economy," growing the sector from producing 27 million boxes of fresh grapes for U.S. consumers only to shipping 110 million boxes to 60 countries with a crop value of $1.8 billion. Happy 50th to our colleagues at the Commission!

Welch's Global Ingredients Group  has introduced a new product for the wine industry: the de-characterized white juice of Niagara grapes for fermentation and blending. The company already supplies Concord (red) grape juice to the wine sector. Kevin Kilcoyne, VP and general manager of the division, says, "We have further winery-specific innovations in the pipeline."

Our hearts go out to the family of Dr. G. Stanley Howell, who passed away on August 13. As a Michigan State University professor, adviser, viticulturist and founder of MSU's Spartan Cellars, he was formative in Michigan's wine industry and beyond. A celebration of life was held August 25 in Bath Township.
The USDA's National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA) is soliciting stakeholder input on the emerging needs and opportunities in food and agricultural sciences through its initiative, "NIFA Listens: Investing in Science to Transform Lives." NGRA stakeholders participated in locally held listening sessions last year; the tour resumes in October at various locations nationwide. Check the schedule to see if there's a session near you. We urge you to attend and/or send feedback via the NIFA Listens website or email. We'll update and make available the suggested talking points we issued last year-stay tuned!

President Trump this month nominated meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), a role that traditionally also doubles as the president's science adviser. Dr. Droegemeier is an administrator at the  University of Oklahoma and former vice-chair of the governing board of the National Science Foundation (NSF). His nomination has largely been praised by the scientific community. He must yet be confirmed by the Senate.

Congratulations to UC Davis Plant Pathologist Dr. Larry Williams, who retired on June 27. Larry was based at the Kearney Ag Station, and served 36 years in his role.

Oregon State University has named Dr. Alan Sams as the Reub Long Dean of its College of Agricultural Sciences, effective October 31. He also will serve as director of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station at OSU. Dr. Sams was previously executive associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University.

Congratulations to Drs. Luca Brillante and Anil Shrestha, the newest faculty members at  Fresno State's growing Department of Viticulture and Enology. Dr. Brillante is a viticulture professor and the Bronco Wine Co. Viticulture research chair. Dr. Shrestha is a plant science professor and the department's first permanent chair in three years. A new Viticulture and Enology Research Center director is scheduled to start in Spring 2019.

Constellation Brands Vice President of Operations Technical Services John Thorngate is the newly appointed 2018-2019 president of the American Society for Enology & Viticulture.

At its 2018 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, the American Society of Horticultural Science honored the winners of its 2018 Extension Material Awards. The society received more than 30 nominations from ASHS members. And of the 18 high-quality submissions chosen as award winners, four were viticulture-related. Congrats to:
  Click the links above to access these award-winning materials.

The widely used Wine Grape Production Guide for Eastern North America, edited by Dr. Tony Wolf (Virginia Tech), first published in 2008, will soon be out of print. The publisher, Plant and Life Sciences Publishing (PALS), will be closing in September and there are no current plans to print the guide elsewhere. Order a copy from PALS before it closes. Or, after September, copies may be available from online retailers; search using the ISBN: 9781933395128.


Vineyard soil, vegetative growth and crop potential vary across blocks, so the Efficient Vineyard Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI)-funded, NGRA-supported project seeks to help growers even the playing field. It employs digital agriculture technologies to spatially measure the soil, canopy and crop; to validate and integrate the data these measurements yield to understand crop load patterns; and to apply variable-rate management to improve overall vineyard balance, fruit quality and uniformity.
In the latest edition of Appellation Cornell, the research team, led by Dr. Terry Bates, gives a great example of how this works in practice, entitled "Sensors Provide Information to Guide Variable-Rate Mechanical Fruit Thinning and Prevent Overcropping of Concord Grapes." They demonstrate how project elements-and collaborators-work together to:
  • Measure: Mobile soil, canopy and crop sensors are used to collect high-density spatial data. Directed in-field manual measurements are used to translate sensor data into viticulture information, such as yield and pruning weight.
  • Model: Multi-layer spatial data are processed to identify different vineyard regions or "management classifications." Digital prescription management maps are created based on past viticulture research, the growers' strategy and desired economic outcomes.
  • Manage: Prescription maps are integrated with precision ag hardware and software for on-the-fly variable-rate applications. This technology has been demonstrated with mechanical shoot thinning, mechanical fruit thinning and variable-rate fertilizer applications.
Check out the full story to see how these concepts work to create a more balanced and, well, efficient vineyard.

Important research on how to predict, identify and manage dreaded resistance to fungicide will begin September 1, thanks to a $2.4 million grant from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). Washington State University's Dr. Michelle Moyer leads the project, called "FRAME: Fungicide Resistance Assessment, Mitigation and Extension Network for Wine, Table and Raisin Grapes." Here's an excerpt from the non-technical summary:
In specialty crops, product quality is king. What happens when routine production tactics that influence quality, such as disease management, stop working? This situation has become reality in grape (wine, table, raisin) production in the USA, where control failures of powdery mildew (Erysiphe necator) have recently occurred. Many factors can influence the effectiveness of a disease management program, but fungicide resistance is the most feared. There is currently no effective system to monitor or predict fungicide resistance; it is usually identified after a management failure. This project's objectives address: where fungicide resistance is currently; improve how we detect and monitor fungicide resistance and improve application efficiency; predict where and when fungicide resistance will arise; and develop strategies that help growers, educators, and manufacturers understand what they need to do to mitigate resistance development and manage resistance that has already developed.
The project runs through August 2020.
Meanwhile, USDA-ARS Plant Pathologist Dr. Walt Mahaffee (a team member on the FRAME project) reports several breakthroughs in the fight against fungicide resistance in the August Vine to Wine newsletter of the  Oregon Wine Research Institute at Oregon State.

August 25, 2018 | San Francisco Chronicle
A team of scientists at The University of Akron is working on a small (think, backpack), inexpensive water harvester. Inspired by the Namib Desert Beetle, the device can draw 10 gallons of water from water particles in the air--even in the driest conditions.
August 23, 2018 | Penn State News
A multistate, interdisciplinary task force to combat spotted lanternfly has assembled, including more than 80 university, USDA and agricultural industry representatives, with Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences leading the charge. Spotted lanternfly is now in 13 Pennsylvania counties and has been IDed in New Jersey and Virginia.

August 22, 2018 | The Scientist
Japan has drawn a distinction between genetic modification and gene editing.
August 13, 2018 | The Washington Post
New Transportation Security Administration scanners let travelers leave electronics and bottled water in their bags where security officials can rotate them on-screen on 3 axes. It's a big improvement from current scanners, which provide only 2D images. What if this kind of scanning technology could be made available in vineyards?
August 14, 2018 | The Scientist
The USDA's Agricultural Research Service has published a pilot study on new gene-editing tech called GAANTRY (Gene Assembly in Agrobacterium by Nucleic acid Transfer using Recombinase technologY) that can insert a stack of multiple genes simultaneously into plants, increasing the durability of resistance to disease, environmental stresses and more. ARS researchers haven't conclusively demonstrated GAANTRY's effectiveness on major crop plants--or grapevines--yet, but have preliminary data showing it works in rice, citrus and potatoes.
August 12, 2018 | NPR
What started off as a tool to shoo birds from airports and industrial sites, lasers are making their way into vineyards, orchards and, as shown in this  NPR segment, blueberry fields. "We had almost a 20 to 25%, maybe even 30% damage loss," says one grower. Not anymore.
August 8, 2018 |
eekend reading: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are seen as great boons to automation and mechanization. But what happens when bots get their own ideas? "Today's algorithms do what you say, not what you meant," says one researcher at Google, who keeps her own private zoo of AI bugs.
August 7, 2018 | Wines & Vines
Despite the second-class status of hybrids in Europe, concerns around the need for intensive use of fungicides to control diseases, particularly in populous areas, are leading producers there to reconsider these hardy varieties. Maybe it's time to stop calling them "hybrids" and start calling them "disease-resistant varieties."
August 2018 | California PD/GWSS Board Highlights
The California Department of Food & Agriculture Pierce's Disease/Glassy-winged Sharpshooter Board reports that field trials have begun in Northern California for rootstocks modified with two genetic combinations for resistance to Pierce's disease. The trials build on the discovery that five genes could impart PD resistance; now researchers are stacking them in combinations of two for greater durability. The vines will periodically be exposed to the disease to test their resistance.
June 1, 2018 |
Picking table grapes is labor-intensive and subjective: each worker has a different visual criteria for aesthetics for harvest. But a robot "has consistent perception to evaluate quality, (enabling us to) maintain the quality and reduce human labor," said Tomonari Furukawa, a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. The university is partnering with Mahindra & Mahindra on a high-tech R&D facility dubbed the Mahindra AgTech Center, where robotic harvesters for table grapes are in development.

Find these stories and more, published as we find them, on the NGRA Facebook page.

November 12, 2018
NGRA End-of-Year Board Meeting
Paso Robles, CA
November 15, 2018
Washington 2018 Grape & Wine Issues Caucus
Yakima, WA
January 28, 2019
NGRA First-of-Year Board Meeting & Annual Meeting of the Members
Sacramento, CA
January 29-31, 2019
Unified Wine & Grape Symposium
Sacramento, CA
Find all upcoming events on the NGRA website.