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 For many years, the space was small and outdated.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

Douro Deal: Portugal's Quinta do Noval Buys Neighboring Wine Estate Quinta do Passadouro

Douro Deal: Portugal's Quinta do Noval Buys Neighboring Wine Estate Quinta do Passadouro

Noval's parent company, AXA Millésimes, gains 89 acres and will keep the estate a separate …

Aug 23, 2019
Can Anyone Stop the Sticky, Sap-Sucking Invader Attacking American Vineyards?

Can Anyone Stop the Sticky, Sap-Sucking Invader Attacking American Vineyards?

Native to China, the spotted lanternfly is killing vines on the East Coast and is spreading

Aug 21, 2019
Wine Shipping Watch: Florida Opens Door to Out-of-State Retailer Shipping

Wine Shipping Watch: Florida Opens Door to Out-of-State Retailer Shipping

Plus, Connecticut passed legislation to allow direct shipping; seven other states face …

Aug 19, 2019
Could the Wine Compound Resveratrol Help Manage Depression?

Could the Wine Compound Resveratrol Help Manage Depression?

A new study suggests the heralded polyphenol found in red wine may help your brain ward off …

Aug 15, 2019
Stephen Starr Debuts Restaurant in Hudson Yards

Stephen Starr Debuts Restaurant in Hudson Yards

Plus, chef Amy Brandwein opens a new spot in D.C., Ristorante Morini closes, and more

Aug 15, 2019
The 2019 New York Wine Experience: Gathering for the Good Life

The 2019 New York Wine Experience: Gathering for the Good Life

The October event will feature two days of seminars featuring great bottlings and compellin…

Aug 12, 2019
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search