New Vineyard Planted to Help Grow Wine Industry

vineyardWhen Dr. Grant Cramer of CABNR’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology established a new research vineyard at the Main Station Field Lab, he got help from volunteers who planted hundreds of grapevines for the project. He also got contributions from a nonprofit group, Nevada Vines and Wines, in the form of vines, trellises and irrigation equipment.

Nevada Vines & Wines is a group of vine growers and winemakers in western Nevada who would like to get a wine industry started in Nevada.

Part of the challenge facing the group is a state law that prohibits wineries in any county with a population over 100,000. That would include Washoe County, which makes that a major roadblock for a group that wants to have wineries in northern Nevada.

There is a clause in the state law that allows for “instructional wineries” in any county. That is one reason the group is working so closely with Cramer, whose studies on grapes could be vital to helping grape production in Nevada become successful. One area of interest for him is a grape gene that improves cold tolerance in grape vines. He has also found that deficit irrigation has improved the winter survival of vines and increased the quantity of human-health compounds in grapes.

The goal of Nevada Vines & Wines is to promote the growth and development of a wine industry, both viticulture (vineyards) and enology (winemaking), in the state of Nevada. To accomplish this, the group educates the public through tastings, publications and speeches; provides current and projected economics for individual vineyards and wineries; and consults on viticulture and winemaking best practices, including vineyard layout, planting, trellis systems, vegetation management, disease and pest control, watering and fertilization, and winter preparation.

Nevada Vines & Wines operates as a nonprofit cooperative and finances its work through charitable donations, grants and cooperative sales, training, winemaking and consulting activities.

Cramer has been a great proponent of developing a wine and vineyard industry in Nevada. He points to the wine industry in Washington state, which has a similar climate to Nevada, where there is an $8.6 billion wine and grape industry. He notes that one effect of climate change may be that California’s climate may not be able to support as much grape production while Nevada’s climate for grape production will be improved.

Cramer has noted that starting a vineyard isn’t cheap, however; it costs about $20,000 an acre to develop an operation with irrigation lines.

A couple of varieties produced by UNR. Nevada Vines & Wines plans to reinvest any of the money it raises into new vineyards. One way it is raising money and awareness is through its Vine Adoption Program at UNR. In this program you prune, care for and harvest 15 or more vines under supervision, and then the group makes wine at UNR.

Nevada’s climate, with extreme cold and drought and saline soils, presents challenges, but Cramer’s research is helping overcome some of those obstacles.

cabnr winesCramer notes that recent advances in plant biotechnology have led to the discovery of an important family of transcription factors called DREB/CBF that act as master regulators of gene expression that regulate abiotic (and biotic) stress tolerance in plants. In one of his projects, he and his fellow researchers are isolating and testing the function of these transcription factors to determine whether or not they can improve the stress tolerance of grapevine as has been shown to occur in other plant species.

“An increase in stress tolerance of grapes will greatly improve the viability of an emerging viticulture and wine industry here in Nevada, Cramer notes on his website. “This research will lead to the development of more stress tolerant wine grapes in Nevada vineyards. More stress tolerant vines will allow for a more robust and economically viable grape and wine industries in Nevada. These industries will do much to diversify the economy, increase tourism and improve the quality of life in the rural and agricultural areas of Nevada.”

Cramer notes that the number of wineries in Washington state increased from 19 to 145 in 20 years. Colorado, which has some of the highest-elevation vineyards in the world, established its first vineyard in 1968 and now has more than 80, producing more than 500 tons of grapes.

In the last 10 years, the number of Colorado wineries increased from five to 24. It is notable that vineyards in both Washington State and Colorado have climates similar to Northern Nevada.

Cramer says Northern Nevada produces excellent-quality wines. The most promising varieties include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Lemberger and Cabernet Sauvignon.

One of Cramer’s key findings has been the discovery that regulated-deficit irrigation improves grape quality without significant loss of production. Regulated deficit irrigation has reduced water usage by 80 percent compared with previous years and significantly improved the quality of grape musts and wines, producing more intense flavors, colors and fruity aromas.