NE1020: Multi-state Evaluation of Winegrape Cultivars and Clones
Statement of Issues and JustificationGrapes are the leading fruit crop in the United States (U.S.). The U.S. is the fourth leading producer of grapes in the world. Latest USDA statistics (2000) show 946,450 acres of grapes (31.6% of all fruit acreage), compared to 830,000 acres of oranges (26 % U.S. total fruit acreage) and 444,700 acres of apples (14.8 % of total). Grapes are grown for many uses, but wine is the most important use. Percent utilization of U.S. produced grapes in 2001 in order of increasing use was: canning (0.4%), non-fermented juice (5.8%), fresh table grapes (13.1%), dried for raisins (25.3%) and wine (55.2%). The farm gate value of grapes in 2000 was over 3 billion dollars (36.3% of total non-citrus fruit value). As a processed use wine production adds considerable value.
The market for wine grapes is increasingly global. A large share of the global wine market is based upon a few specific cultivars that consumers associate with high quality including, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, and Syrah (Shiraz). Probably another 10 - 20 cultivars are recognized as being capable of producing superior quality table wine. There is considerable resistance in the world market to non-traditional cultivars. No wine cultivars developed through traditional breeding programs in the 20th or 21st century has become recognized in the international market place. Instead focus has been on improving the quality of a small set of cultivars that have been grown for hundreds of years.
Clonal selection programs have improved quality parameters of traditional wine grape cultivars. These programs identified differences in performance within a cultivar that is caused by genetic mutations and changes in gene expression. This clonal variation is most often found in cultivars that have a long history of cultivation. Parameters that can vary between clones include yield, vigor, disease resistance, morphology, fruit quality, and wine making potential. For the most part, these clonal development programs have been European.
USDA provided funds to establish a grape quarantine center at the University of California, Davis, to enable grower access to this pool of improved germplasm. As a result, U.S. wine grape growers now may select from a great diversity of clones of the major grape growing cultivars. However, there is little research information available about the performance of these wine grape clones in the many wine grape-growing regions of the U.S. Research is particularly needed on the performance of existing clones of wine grapes under U.S. growing conditions that differ from European conditions due to both environmental and economic factors.
In addition to these "Global" cultivars, there are other winegrape cultivars whose quality greatly respected on a regional basis. There are two reasons that these lesser known cultivars need to be evaluated in the U.S. First, the greatly expanded world supply of the primary global cultivars has, in some cases, produced an oversupply. The market saturation of the major cultivars causes even regions with established reputations to be interested in developing new products (varietal wines) to expand or maintain sales. Second, there is great potential for minor traditional cultivars from the old world to produce superior wines in the U.S. In some cases these cultivars may be best adapted to newly emerging grape production areas.
In addition, the major global cultivars are all Vitis vinifera cultivars. Because of climatic or disease restrictions there are wine grape growing regions of the U.S. that rely on non-Vinifera grapes or on inter-specific hybrids. These regions will improve their economic viability of their wine industries with information about the performance of new varietal material suitable to their growing conditions. The value of each successful introduction brings long-term benefits to the grower and winery community. For instance, the 1999 New York farm-gate value of the Geneva-bred inter-specific wine grape cultivar, Cayuga White (Einset and Robinson, 1972) was $344,860 (860 tons harvested at $401/ton). On the retail market, Cayuga White wine accounted for annual sales in the range of $4 to $5 million dollars between 1995 and 1999.
This research project will test the performance of clones of the major global cultivars and of new or previously neglected wine grape cultivars in the different wine grape growing regions within the U.S. This work will improve the competitiveness of U.S. grape growers and wineries by providing performance and quality information that is much needed for planting decisions.
Multistate funding for this project will constitute only a small fraction of the support required for this project. Funds will be leveraged through the Viticulture Consortium (East and West), a special program within USDA/CSREES administered by Cornell University and Penn State in the East and University of California in the West. Funds will also be generated from the American Vineyard Foundation as well as individual state grape and wine research programs. Finally, this project has been supported by WineAmerica, an advocacy organization for the grage and wine industry. WineAmerica will use this project as an example of strong multistate cooperation, which should allow enhancement of the Viticulture Consortium funding.
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