Getting wine from grape to glass faster, easier is focus of grant to wine producing group

AMES, Iowa - New grape varieties can take more than 20 years to breed and evaluate, and even longer to reach commercial success.

Established wine-making areas have been perfecting their processes for decades.

Leon Millot grapes are among cold-weather hardy varieties grown in Iowa.

Areas such as Iowa, relatively new to making wine, have far less experience.

A recently awarded $2.5 million grant will help colder-weather states from Nebraska to Iowa to New York overcome obstacles in the vineyard, winery and tasting room and also improve tourism.

The grant's focus is a group of extremely cold-hardy wine grape varieties, new to both growers and consumers. These grapes have spawned new small winery industries in the upper Midwest and Northeast over the past decade.

In Iowa alone, the industry has grown from 100 acres of grape vines and 14 wineries in the year 2000, to more than 1,200 acres and 94 wineries in 2011.

The research will examine how to determine the best growing conditions, modify the higher grape acidity and showcase wine's aroma, and build tourism networks to draw visitors to tasting rooms where the majority of sales take place.

"This opens up opportunities for Iowa growers to become leaders in the production of premium cold climate wines," said Murli Dharmadhikari, director of the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State.

Iowa State University will receive more than $500,000 in funding for this project over two years.

Ultimately, they hope the project will help convert startup wineries into sustainably profitable enterprises that can fuel rural economic development, said Dharmadhikari.

Paul Domoto, professor of horticulture at ISU, will lead the viticulture studies group, and will work with Gail Nonnecke, University Professor of horticulture, on researching vineyard trials in Iowa. Jacek Koziel, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, will be part of the fruit composition and genetics group and study sensory profiling and volatile metabolites. Dharmadhikari will oversee fruit chemistry, winemaking trials, and also serve as a liaison to the project advisory council team.

In addition, Dharmadhikari and ISU field specialist Mike White will serve on Extension and consumer-marketing teams. Paul Lasley, professor of sociology, will lead and coordinate project evaluation.

The goal is to provide producers with research-based tools and practices to help them grow, vinify and sell quality wines to local and regional markets.

Research will be led by Tim Martinson, project director and senior extension associate at Cornell University, New York.

The grant was funded by the by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which supports multi-institution, interdisciplinary research on crops including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and ornamentals.

The consortium also includes researchers from Michigan State University, East Lansing; Oklahoma State University, Stillwater; North Dakota State University, Fargo; South Dakota State University, Brookings; the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; University of Nebraska, Lincoln; University of Vermont, Burlington; and University of Wisconsin, Madison.