Penn Stater part of $3.8 million grant to support U.S. wine industry

University Park, Pa. -- Robert Crassweller, professor of horticulture in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, is part of a $3.8 million, multiuniversity research project to evaluate the wine quality of grapes, with an eye toward improving grape and wine sustainability and economic vitality in the eastern United States.

Crassweller will help to evaluate the horticultural characteristics and adaptability of grape varieties grown at Penn State's Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville and Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center in North East for production in Pennsylvania. He also will work with the Penn State Extension enologist to evaluate wines made from the grapes.

The plantings at the two research stations were made possible by an ongoing grant from the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Board from a grower-levied tax on Pennsylvania wines.

Crassweller's work is part of a specialty crops grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to researchers at Virginia Tech. Other partners in the project are North Carolina State University, University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Cornell University and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

The five-year project is aimed at creating, refining and encouraging industry adoption of grape and wine production practices that integrate research-based recommendations with key market drivers to achieve a robust and sustainable grape and wine industry in the region. To increase wine sales in the eastern United States, wine grapes and wines must be of consistently high quality, and they must be produced on a cost-competitive basis.

The underlying research addresses unique challenges of quality grape and wine production in the East, including unpredictable rain during the growing season, frost and winter injury problems, unique grape varieties, and the high costs of grape production that result from the relatively small scale of most Eastern vineyards. The research also explores consumer buying preferences and perceptions about regional wines relative to other domestic and foreign brands.

Pennsylvania's climatic differences, topography and diverse soils present unique challenges for all varieties. But Pennsylvania currently ranks fifth nationally in wine-grape production. The state has more than 170 bonded wineries producing more than a million gallons of wine each year, with help from independent commercial vineyards that supply their grapes.

Interest within the state in growing grapes and making wine is on the rise, with more than 60 new wineries in the last 10 years. Penn State faculty in horticulture, plant pathology, entomology, and crop and soil sciences collaborate with field-based extension educators to form a network in support of grape propagation.

Pennsylvania's wine industry has experienced significant growth in the last 30 years. A 2009 study commissioned by the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Board found that the industry yields an annual economic impact of about $870 million.

For more information, contact Crassweller at 814-863-6163 or rmc7@psu.edu, or Gary Abdullah at 814-863-2708 or gxa2@psu.edu.

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Last Updated May 20, 2011