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Multi-State Coordinated Evaluation of Wine Grape Cultivars and Clones

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Stockbridge School of Agriculture
Project Description: 

Grapes have a high establishment cost of $20-30K/acre and delayed returns during a 3-4 year establishment period. Profitability and sustainability depends upon reliable productivity and resilience to inevitable climate-related injury. A recent case study in Vermont indicated that, given optimum management and selection of a cultivar suited for the site, climate and market that would not require replanting, typical break even on net cash occurred in year 7 for a 15 acre vineyard, and year 17 for a smaller 5 acre vineyard, and positive net present value of the enterprise occurred after twenty years. While this appears to put grape production in a particularly risky category, such time periods to attaining profitability are similar to apples, and considerations for both of those crops assume wholesale, commodity markets for fruit. However, winegrape production has the unique characteristic of substantially greater value for the finished product (wine), which increases overall value of the raw commodity within the industry. Despite that, vineyards must be profitable on their own before winemaking considerations are accounted for, and delays in production from poorly-performing cultivars, crop losses from cold or disease damage, or poor quality cultivars with low crop price will delay or even prevent net vineyard profitability. Cold winter temperatures; short, cool growing seasons; and humidity that is conducive to disease development limits the production of traditional V. vinifera cultivars in most emerging winegrape regions, and novel cultivars may be more suitable even in regions where V. vinifera cultivars may thrive. Cultivar selection is the primary method for reducing losses from cold injury in vineyards, and the relatively new development of cold-hardy winegrape cultivars suitable for the eastern U.S. and other emerging regions is only beginning to be optimized.
The Massachusetts farm winery industry is growing and thriving. In 2015 seventy licensed farm-wineries hand-crafted and bottled over 172,737 gallons of still and sparkling wine, an increase of 28% from 2010 when 134,724 gallons were produced. Over $17 million in sales were generated in 2015, a 55% increase from $9.3 million in 2010. Direct sales to consumers represented 70.5% of farm winery sales with the remaining 29.5% wholesale. In addition, Massachusetts' wineries employed 312 people, including 63 full-time and 234 part-time employees. Overall, there were more employees in the industry compared
to 2010, with more part time positions. This project supports this growing industry with objective science-based information.

Agriculture topics: