Projects Underway

Research Projects Underway - 2016


Lead Authors - Drs. Bruce Reisch and Lance Cadle-Davidson

Funding - $10 million dedicated to accelerating grape cultivar improvement via phenotyping centers and next generation markers. The federal component of the funding for the project ($4.5 million) was received from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.


The research team led by Drs. Bruce Reisch and Lance Cadle-Davidson will focus on identifying several traits: powdery mildew resistance, low temperature responses, and fruit quality. The project is looking to “map the way to the next generation of grapes”.

Powdery mildew affects vineyards worldwide, resulting in reduced yields, stunted growth and lower fruit quality. New resistant varieties will help to improve vineyards’ sustainability by reducing fungicide applications and preventing the development of resistance to available treatments.

Low temperatures impact the range and growing season of grapes. Improved cold tolerance and budbreak timing could allow for greater adaptability to a changing climate and the development of economically significant grape-based industries in new regions of the US.

Grape varieties that can resist disease and tolerate cold weather may be associated with undesirable aromas/flavors. Identification of varieties that have advantageous traits coupled with high fruit quality will lead to better grapes for wine, juice, raisins, and fresh fruit.

The goals of the VitisGen Project are:
 • Identify high priority vine performance and fruit quality traits with documented
    economic value to the grape industry and to the consumer.
 • Discover, identify, and improve these high priority traits using both traditional and
    modern biological approaches.
 • Enhance communication regarding the value of improved knowledge of grape genomics,
    new varieties, new technologies, and the evolving needs of the grape industry and

A coordinating meeting with the project’s industry advisory council has been held in each of the past four years and another session held January 7 & 8, 2016 to discuss accomplishments and review progress.  Industry representatives have provided technical advice throughout the project, from its development through implementation. For three years, NGWI has provided support for a post-doc to help identify the genes affecting powdery mildew resistance.  In addition, in November of 2013, the NGWI Executive Committee acknowledged that there are bottlenecks in the processing of chromosome mapping data.  The Executive Committee voted to commit to provide $75,000 funding for each of the three subsequent years for a computation biologist to assist with the processing bottleneck. In the first quarter of 2014, NGWI worked to secure this level of funding, with a three-year commitment.

Grant funding for the VitisGen project ended at the end of this fiscal year 2015. A second grape industry-wide project, “VitisGen II” was submitted as a grant application under the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) in 2016; however was not selected for funding. There are plans to review the project proposal and application for submission for the next SCRI application cycle starting in fall of 2016. The 2016 team report is available here.  Visit the VitisGen website for complete project information.

Vineyard efficiency through high resolution, spatiotemporal crop load measurement and management
Lead Authors - Drs. Terry Bates and Stephen Nuske

Grant Amount - USDA Continuation Grant, $6 million in funding over four years

Under the direction of Dr. Terry Bates (Cornell) and Dr. Stephen Nuske (Carnegie Mellon), this top priority project seeks to develop sensor and mechanization technology to measure crop load and assess canopy with real time imaging to enhance our ability to achieve vine balance and eventually develop tools for precision viticultural practices. Through NGWI, the industry committed over $995,000 for proof of concept work from 2011 through 2015.  In the first few years of this proof of concept work, Bates and Nuske have taken a stepwise approach in developing, deploying, and integrating proximal soil, canopy, and novel crop sensors to collect spatial information in research and commercial vineyards. Early efforts focused on validating canopy and yield monitor sensor data with manual vine measurements and developing an image analysis system for non-destructive fruit detection and measurement. In 2015, the research team deployed soil, canopy, and crop sensors in five commercial test vineyards spanning wine, table, and juice production. Data from multiple layers are now being evaluated further to understand spatial relationships and develop intra-vineyard management classifications. The purpose of this work is to allow producers to develop (spatial) data driven management decisions.

A meeting of the Industry Advisory Panel was held on January 26th, bi-monthly meetings will be held throughout the four years of the project. For complete information and project news visit

New Detection, Research and Extension Tools for Managing Wood-canker Diseases of Fruit and Nut Crops
Lead Authors - Drs. Kendra Baumgartner and Themis Michailides
Grant Amount - $2.5 million in - SCRI Continuation Grant total $4.3 million funded through SCRI

A multi-crop (grape, pistachio and almond) project was funded in 2012 to tackle trunk diseases, the leading reason for vineyard removal in many parts of the country. Because the industry lacks disease diagnostic tools (other than saws) it is estimated that these diseases result in losses of over $200 million each year.  NGWI helped craft a winning planning grant from SCRI, with which Dr. Themis Michailides (UC Davis-Kearney in Parlier), Dr. Kendra Baumgartner (ARS) pulled together a trans-disciplinary team to develop diagnostic tools and eventually, measures to reduce the impact of diseases including Eutypa and Botryosphaeria. NGWI members committed well over $2,000,000 in land match annually, with wine grapes from five different regions, and table grapes from two.  NGWI members also agreed to serve on the project’s advisory board, which has met several times over the past years and the next scheduled meeting is set for January 22, 2016. This project was submitted as a five year project, and full funding was approved for a continuation grant, once Congress extended the Specialty Crop Research Initiative in 2014.  Work will continue to determine the feasibility of developing a diagnostic tool, based on molecular changes in asymptomatic vines.  In addition, the project includes an integrated economic and sociology component which will be used to develop outreach tools explaining the cost/benefit ratios and the year when various available preventative treatments commence. View complete project details here.

A recent article in the Good Fruit Grower notes an increasing concern in Washington state as more acres are planted in wine grapes and as the trunks on the region’s once-nascent grapevines age. Older vines are more susceptible to the disease. The article discusses the disease and the potential prevention being researched in California. Click here for the link to the full article.

Developing Sustainable Vineyard Water Management Strategies for Limited and Impaired Water Supplies
Lead Authors - Drs. Jim Ayars and Andrew McElrone
Grant Amount - $2.7 Million

On-going industry input is helping assure that the results of this work will provide meaningful data to assist growers in producing optimum yields of quality fruit, using less water, or water which is potentially more saline.  NGWI is providing $12,500 cash per year for several years of this project; contributions of land, equipment, lab evaluation and management will exceed $2 million over the life of the project. Dr. Don Suarez of the US Salinity Lab is examining soil salinity as part of this project, and presented his latest findings at an NGWI annual meeting in January 2012, and again at ASEV in 2014.  Dr. Ayars reported on the project at the California Table Grape Commission’s research seminar in February 2012. In addition, Ayars provided a “train the trainer” presentation on the project at the National Viticulture and Enology Extension Leadership Conference in March of 2015 in Lodi.  At the NGWI Annual Meeting January 28, 2014, Dr. Andrew McElrone reviewed some of the findings to date, including that some rootstocks repair embolisms rapidly, while others are simply less prone to formation of these harmful structures. Additionally, Dr. McElrone discussed the evolution of “surface renewal” technology from a complicated array of tools which needed a scientist to interpret the results to a single unit capable of sending automated evapotranspiration reports to users.  One “surface renewal” station can cover up to five acres of vineyard, and could assist irrigation managers to identify signs of stress and help determine when to water. Funding will be running out on this project after this year – but much work remains to be done, as much of the Western United States continues to struggle with reduced or impaired water supplies.  Efforts are underway to craft a new project, which will continue to test the limits of deficit irrigation strategies, and will work to integrate data available from both proximal and remote sensing technology.  Once draft final reports were completed, the Industry Advisory Committee met on October 21, 2015 in Modesto, California to review the manuscripts.  Plans are needed to enlist the help of the NGWI Extension and Outreach Committee to translate appropriate manuscripts into educational materials for growers.

Improved Grape and Wine Quality in a Challenging Environment:  An Eastern US Model for Sustainability and Economic Vitality
Lead Authors - Dr. Tony Wolf, Virginia Tech

Grant Amount - $3,796,693

NGWI also supported Dr. Tony Wolf of Virginia Tech on a successful SCRI grant application for an East Coast vineyard project.  The specific objectives of the project include developing applied means of achieving vine balance under variable growing conditions (VA, NY, and NC); developing canopy and crop management metrics to achieve consistent vine balance and canopy microclimate; and capitalizing on regional wine style through market analysis.

This 5-year, standard research and extension project involves 7 institutions and 20 co-PIs, started as an SCRI planning grant at Cornell in FY 2009. 

Process Water Specialty Crop Block Grant
Lead Authors - Dr. Gour Choudhury, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Grant Amount - $900,000

NGWI sponsored a successful California Specialty Crop Block grant application for a project designed to reduce the volume and salinity of process water used in wineries and other food processing facilities.  The project, led by Dr. Gour Choudhury at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, includes collaborators from the Wine Institute, California League of Food Processors, and the Sustainable Wine Alliance.  The first steps include: creating a survey instrument to understand current practices; reaching out to cleaning material suppliers for collaboration and support; and testing current practices to measure effectiveness and waste stream.  The facilities involved include Wawona Frozen Foods, E&J Gallo Winery, and Sun-Maid Raisins.  After determining standard industry practices, Dr. Choudhury’s research team tested the ability of widely available “green” cleaning agents to remove tartrates from stainless steel tanks, a key concern in winery operations.  Unfortunately, none of these materials were effective. This led Dr. Choudhury back to the lab, to better understand the chemical bonds which cause these tartrates to adhere to stainless.  Armed with this information, the team reached out to Madison Chemical Company, which reformulated their cleaning agents, developing products which clean tartrates, along with reducing the load of sodium chloride in winery process water. 

An additional $450,000 was awarded from the Agricultural Research Initiative (ARI) in 2012 bringing the total grant amount to $900,000. This additional funding has aided in another important aspect of this project:  looking at mechanical processes with high pressure water, to aid in the tank cleaning. Work continues to develop a moving spray nozzle to reduce the need to add cleaning materials in the process.

Northern Grapes: Integrating viticulture, winemaking, and marketing of new cold hardy cultivars supporting new and growing rural wineries
Lead Author - Tim Martinson, Cornell University
Grant Amount - $5.1 Million

This project has brought together 34 researchers from 12 institutions to address varietal performance and resulting fruit and wine flavor attributes in the cold climates of the northern tier of the United States. Focusing on field trials for Frontenac and Marquette cold climate varieties, the project will help growers to apply appropriate viticultural practices to achieve consistent fruit characteristics for ripening, and help winemakers address their unique fruit composition to produce distinctive wines that consumers will like and purchase.  The project will also explore consumer preferences, developing individual/regional marketing strategies to increase sales and sustained profitability of wineries and vineyards in the northern tier, including Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North & South Dakota. 

Northern Grapes Project News
The 2016 Northern Grapes Symposium was hosted by the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Conference on February 24th in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Nine Northern Grapes Project team members lead six sessions, encompassing all four of the projects’ objectives.  Additional information and links to the presentations may be found here.

Improvement of Grapevine Health Monitoring
Lead Author - Dr. Adib Rowani, UC Davis
Grant Amount - $82,571  - CA Department of Food and Agriculture

Dr. Adib Rowhani, University of California, Davis, was awarded a Specialty Crop Block Grant for the development of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) as a diagnostic tool which will be essential in the development of advanced detection tools for the most commercially important virus strains present in California.

The project will generate data which will show the improvements that will follow from the introduction of the genomics technology of NGS. This technology can improve the sensitivity, comprehensiveness, and reliability of pathogen analysis. Additionally it can significantly decrease the time and cost of the California (CDFA) mandated grapevine certification procedure. The data will be provided to CDFA and APHIS for their use in considering the revision of their standards for certification. New standards would lead to significant savings for growers who currently face delays of at least two years in the release of candidate grapevine accessions from import quarantine to profitable production. Project researchers believe the project will show that NGS analysis is better, faster and cheaper at pathogen detection than is the current bioassay. If this proves to be true, NGS technology could reduce the certification time of vines that prove to be uninfected from years to weeks.

This project could facilitate the installation of NGS as one of the primary diagnostic tools for use in the management and control of grapevine diseases. While growers in California will be the first to benefit from advances in efficiencies of pathogen certification, the comprehensive, sensitive, reliable, and cost-effective analysis provided by NGS will eventually be adopted by managers and regulators nationwide as the diagnostic standard for the grape growing industry. 

For more information on these projects you may contact the Principal Investigator(s):


Dr. Jim Ayars or Dr. Andrew McElrone

Dr. Tony Wolf

Dr. Gour Choudhury


Summary of NGWI Funded and Supported Research Projects