Wine research

Wine grapes during fall harvest near Leavenworth, Wash. The Washington wine industry is increasing research funding.

SEATTLE — The Washington wine industry will boost its research budget nearly 300% over the next four years.

The Washington State Wine Commission board approved a new strategic research plan on June 21 to fund an estimated $5.5 million in projects to carry the state’s viticulture and enology research program forward.

“Research is now taking a center stage in Washington’s wine industry,” said Steve Warner, commission president.

“It’s an essential part of this industry that has grown to more than $6 billion of in-state economic impact, 58,000 acres of wine grapes and 970 wineries,” he said.

The plan takes effect in July. Priorities are developed from broad industry input. Results are made available to all wine grape growers and wineries in the state, regardless of size.

Research addresses key challenges like grapevine viruses that reduce vineyard productivity and fruit quality, new pest species, wine spoilage and tannin management.

Viticulture and enology research spending in Washington has grown 20% since 2015 and has exceeded $1 million annually for the last three years.

The research, done by Washington State University, is supported by the university, the wine commission, the Auction of Washington Wines and state taxes collected on all wine sold.

Under the new strategic plan, at least 40% of annual research spending will go to a targeted initiative.

A new element is a competitive grant program that will fund short-term demonstration and proof-of-concept research beginning next year. Industry feedback has identified a void of vineyard and winery research that have rapid, practical applications, the commission said.

All types of research, from basic to applied, have a role in addressing industry challenges, but demonstration trials will be particularly helpful to small wineries and growers unable to conduct in-house wine or vineyard trials, the commission said.

The short-term research program will be open to students and faculty at Washington community colleges and state universities.

Dick Boushey, a wine commission board member and grape grower, said research has helped the industry conserve water, reduce pesticide use and improve wine quality.

“We look for even more results in the future as we support innovative research and technologies for vineyards and wineries that improve the quality of grapes and wine, keep the industry competitive and raise the global awareness of Washington wines,” he said.

Central Washington field reporter

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