Labor Shortage, Mechanization Among Research Funded by Washington Wine Industry

Labor Shortage, Mechanization Among Research Funded by Washington Wine Industry

More than $1 million has been allocated for viticulture and enology research by the Washington State Wine Commission for 2018-19 through the statewide wine research grant program administered by Washington State University (WSU). The research grants aim to improve overall wine quality by addressing vineyard and winery challenges.

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This year’s research funding of nearly $1,009,000 is 30% higher than funding five years ago of $776,280. The research program will fund 17 viticulture and enology research projects that focus on vineyard health, such as grapevine diseases and a new leaf-folder pest, irrigation water savings and efficiencies, heat stress and drought, and new spray application technologies. Winery research topics include tannin management, wine quality impacts from mechanization, wine spoilage, sensory characteristics of wine, and the impact of pH on wine microbial ecology.

New this year are two projects addressing labor shortages that are occurring in Washington vineyards, says Rick Hamman, chair of the Wine Commission’s Wine Research Advisory Committee, a subcommittee that annually reviews research proposals and makes funding recommendations.

“Washington wine grape growers, like many other farmers, are feeling the pinch of a dwindling labor supply,” Hamman says. “One research project aims to develop a precise mechanical solution for shoot thinning, while another begins development of a smartphone application for crop load estimation. Both shoot thinning and crop estimating are very labor intensive, time-consuming chores in the vineyard.”

Hamman notes that previous research outcomes have made significant industry impact and benefited all involved in Washington’s wine industry, from large to small growers and wineries.

Viticulture and enology research in Washington is funded through the statewide Grape and Wine Research Program, which has unique funding partners unlike any in the nation. The program receives industry support from the Washington State Wine Commission; state government dollars through WSU; a portion of the sales tax paid all wine sold in the state; and private donations from the Auction of Washington Wines, an annual event held to raise awareness of Washington wine. WSU’s Viticulture and Enology research and Seattle’s Children’s Hospital are the Auction’s two beneficiaries.