It’s a bold goal, but even coming close to achieving it would benefit anyone associated with the U.S. table grape, raisin, and wine industries: Tripling the economic impact of these industries by 2020. That’s the stated goal of a new group called the National Grape and Wine Initiative (NGWI).
The initiative’s genesis came out of the realization that growers and other industry members need to compete in a global market, so it would make sense for them to reach across industry lines and join forces, says the NGWI’s administrator, Ken Melban. The group’s board represents a broad cross-section of the grape business. “There are people from juice, fresh, wine, and raisin industries,” he says. “We want to make sure all components are represented, as well as all geographic regions.”
A lot of people have hailed the Australians for the success of their winegrape industry, and NGWI founders also looked Down Under for inspiration, says the board chairman, Tom Davenport of Welch’s National Grape Cooperative in New York. “The Australians clearly defined their objective — capture a significant share of the world wine market. They then developed specific research strategies to support that objective,” he states in the NGWI newsletter. “Their focus on producing high-quality, low-cost wine products that would appeal to consumers’ palates have proven extremely successful. NGWI chose a similar model, one that represents our unique grape products and regional diversity.”
Davenport, who will turn the chairmanship over to E&J Gallo Winery’s Mary Wagner at the next meeting, which will be held in conjunction with the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium later this month in Sacramento, CA, noted that early on growers and other industry members took a practical view of the effort. “During our journey, we were asked by industry producers how the initiative would help them on their farms, in their wineries and their other grape-related businesses,” he says. “The simple answer is, the results will enable each segment of our industry to improve profitability. If we don’t continue to focus on efficiency and quality, some other countries will, and they will put us out of business.”
The critical first step was working together on health-related research. This past summer they brought together scientific experts representing the table grape, juice, raisin, and wine sectors to develop strategies for expanding the research on and increasing awareness of the health benefits of grapes and grape products among consumers and people who influence health, such as doctors. Participants included representatives from the California Table Grape Commission, the California Raisin Board, the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, and the National Grape Cooperative, as well as senior researchers from major privately-held juice and wine companies.
“Grapes and grape products are known to contain an array of bioactive constituents that research indicates may be beneficial in maintaining health and possibly reducing the risk of certain diseases,” said Davenport. “The goal of this meeting was to determine how, working together, we can focus and leverage our efforts in uncovering and truly defining that potential, so that consumers and industry can benefit from this knowledge.”
A number of strategies for accomplishing this goal were outlined. One such initiative may involve showcasing the current science on grapes and grape products through a scientific symposium. NGWI has identified five priority areas in which to focus research: 1) improving product quality; 2) exploring and promoting the health benefits of grapes and grape products; 3) enhancing technologies for improved vineyard and production systems; 4) improving environmentally-friendly and sustainable farming and processing practices; and 5) ensuring industry member awareness of, and access to, grape and grape product research findings. Other NGWI activities include the following:
- National Clean Stock Network — Members of NGWI have worked closely with organizers at the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, as well as representatives from many other key specialty crop commodities, to lay the groundwork for a national clean stock network. The goal of the network is to provide funding for the establishment and maintenance of regional centers that will provide clean germplasm to both nurseries and growers.
- National Grape Registry — NGWI helped to facilitate the launch of the National Grape Registry Web site. Constructed and designed by research scientists at Foundation Plant Services and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Germplasm Repository, both located at the University of California-Davis, the objective of the registry is to provide the industry with the availability and key cultural profiles for all grape materials found in the U.S. — including wine, juice, raisin, and table grape varieties.
- Extension Education and Outreach — One of NGWI’s major objectives is to provide support and coordination for national grape and wine Extension education efforts. Effective, high-quality Extension education is critical to delivering the latest research results and information to the grower and processor community. Prior to the establishment of the NGWI, the U.S. grape and wine Extension community did not have a national forum for discussion and interaction. NGWI is bringing together such Extension experts, and hopes to improve recruitment and training of young Extension professionals.