Cutting-Edge Grapevine Genetic Researchers to Get New Home

The federal government is allocating $68.9 million to build a grape-genetics research lab near Cornell University's Geneva campus in New York's Finger Lakes
Cutting-Edge Grapevine Genetic Researchers to Get New Home
Located in New York, the Grapevine Genetics Research Unit has helped winemakers in the Finger Lakes and beyond. (Courtesy of Heart & Hands Wine Company)
Mar 18, 2019

For years, some of America's top researchers into the genetics of grapevines have been working in borrowed, cramped quarters. Now they're moving on up, and it should eventually lead to better American wines. On Feb. 26, Sen. Chuck Schumer announced that $68.9 million in federal funding will be devoted to building a long-awaited federal grape-genetics research lab at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, N.Y.

The facility will allow for the expansion of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service's Grapevine Genetics Research Unit (ARS GGRU). The unit's mission is to employ cutting edge genomic tools to aid traditional grapevine breeding, helping create better vines for vintners.

"What the facility does is look at the genetics of grapevines, then [the researchers] give the info to breeders," said John Martini, owner of Anthony Road Wine Company in New York's Finger Lakes. He has been an active supporter of the GGRU's work. "These are not [genetically modified organisms] we are talking about. They are vines that have been conventionally bred using cutting-edge genetic information from the GGRU to reduce the amount of time and effort it takes a breeder to get from point A to point B."

"Since this unit was formed, we have been renting space from Cornell, so this facility was imperative for us to continue our work," Gan-Yuan Zhong, research leader of the GGRU, told Wine Spectator. For many years, the space was small and outdated. In 2003, the USDA did a feasibility study for the project, but the project was sidelined until now due to lack of funding.

The unit's scientists have typically addressed wine industry challenges such as improved fruit quality, disease resistance and cold tolerance. "Our focus is to generate genetic knowledge and tools which we can then pass on to breeders," said Zhong. "We currently have three scientists and several support technicians on staff, each focusing on a different area or problem, and are looking to hire a fourth scientist soon."

As the global climate changes and as vintners try to use fewer chemicals in farming, the researchers' work is becoming increasingly relevant. Zhong is focused on using genetics to improve fruit quality and vine architecture, while Lance Cadle-Davidson, a plant pathologist, is focused on developing vine resistance to powdery mildew, a big problem in the northeastern United States. Cadle-Davidson says his aim is to "develop eco-friendly disease resistance that will last for future generations" and reduce the need for fungicides.


Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.


Geneticist Jason Lando's work is aimed at understanding how vines respond to abiotic stress factors such as temperature shifts due to climate change, drought, flood conditions, salt, heavy metals and changes in light. Zhong says he would like to have a fourth member of the team who is focused on improving flavor and aroma compounds.

The new building also cements a partnership between the GGRU and Cornell University scientists. "We benefit so much for having them present here," said Cornell instructor and grape breeder Bruce Reisch.

"The grape industry drives incredible growth in New York state, providing $4.8 billion in economic benefits and supporting thousands of good-paying jobs in the Finger Lakes region," Sen. Schumer said in a statement. "The outstanding ARS researchers at the GGRU are working diligently to revolutionize this industry. It is vital that the federal government invest in its own scientific workforce and provide them with the necessary resources to keep pace with innovative, state- of-the-art technologies."

What's next? "Our next step is to get the relevant parties together, choose a site, and plan the changes that may need to be made, all before the construction can even begin, " said Zhong.

New York City Education United States New York News

You Might Also Like

Your Favorite Old World Wine Is About to Get Much More Expensive

Your Favorite Old World Wine Is About to Get Much More Expensive

The U.S. is imposing 25% tariffs on many French, Spanish and German wines. What will it …

Oct 18, 2019
2019 Grand Tastings: Sharing the Joy of Wine

2019 Grand Tastings: Sharing the Joy of Wine

Wine Spectator kicks off its 39th annual tasting weekend with a sold-out showcase of 273 …

Oct 18, 2019
Spain's Alma Carraovejas Buys 2 Ribeiro Wineries: Emilio Rojo and Viña Meín

Spain's Alma Carraovejas Buys 2 Ribeiro Wineries: Emilio Rojo and Viña Meín

The Ribera del Duero based wine company hopes to untap the potential of Galicia's wines

Oct 16, 2019
Moderate Wine Consumption and Type 2 Diabetes

Moderate Wine Consumption and Type 2 Diabetes

A meta analysis of research found wine may help diabetes sufferers by lowering blood …

Oct 15, 2019
Chanel Group Expands Its Wine Ambitions to Provence

Chanel Group Expands Its Wine Ambitions to Provence

The luxury company, which owns wineries in Bordeaux and Napa, buys Domaine de I'lle in …

Oct 14, 2019
Exclusive: Jackson Family Wines Buys Balo Vineyards in Anderson Valley

Exclusive: Jackson Family Wines Buys Balo Vineyards in Anderson Valley

The 14-acre property in California's Mendocino County is known for its Pinot Noir and …

Oct 14, 2019
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search