NE-1020… What? The Top 5 Industry Benefits Affiliated with the NE-1020 Variety Trial
By: Denise M. Gardner
What is NE-1020?
Since the start of my tenure at Penn State Extension, we have been routinely highlighting the data and research affiliated with the NE-1020 project. Many have asked what NE-1020 is, and others have asked “Why are you participating in this trial? What is the point?” All valid questions!
As we come to an end of another vintage season, I thought it would be an interesting experience to review the NE-1020 project and what it is contributing to PA industry members.
The NE-1020 variety trials are a multi-state collaborative project, initially co-funded by the previously existing Viticulture Consortium-East, that were designed to evaluate the viticultural characteristics and wine quality potential of several wine grape varieties, cultivars and clones. Variety selections at each vineyard plot were determined based on dormant and growing season climatic conditions and research standards (i.e. standard varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, that would be tested at each vineyard site to establish a baseline and commonality at each site for research findings). These standard varieties are commonly referred to as “core varieties.”
Penn State has 2 research vineyards: 1 in Biglerville, PA and 1 at North East, PA near Erie. Vineyards were designed in a randomized complete block (RCB) design, meaning that “panels” of 4 vines were established at random throughout the ~1 acre of vineyard land at each site. The primary purpose of the RCB design is to allow for statistical analysis and to remove any potential variability due to location in the vineyard. This design is often affiliated with the cost to manage the NE-1020 sites, as varying training systems for hybrids and vinifera are frequent within a single row of vines. Additional costs are often related to data collection for all 20 varieties planted at one site. “Core varieties” for the Biglerville site include Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot while “core varieties” for the Erie site include Chambourcin and Vidal Blanc. These varieties are harvested and made into wine annually, regardless of vintage variation.
After 3-4 years of vineyard establishment, Penn State began harvesting wine grapes in 2011. What a year to begin harvest and data collection! (I can hear the small grunts of laughter as we recall the 2011 season.) This was also the first year that we began making wines for research purposes from these varieties. Thus, as of the 2014 harvest, this will be the 4th year that Penn State has brought the Pennsylvania industry research wines for evaluation.
As this is a co-funded project between a Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant led by Dr. Tony Wolf at Virginia Tech and the PA Wine Marketing and Research Board (WMRB), we have tried to find active ways to engage pertinence of this study to industry members.
For example, one of the varieties that we have been evaluating includes Albarino, a white variety that is limited in Pennsylvania, and industry members get an opportunity to taste this wine every year at the WMRB Symposium.
The following notes the top 5 benefits affiliated with the NE-1020 project since I became involved with the study in 2011:
- Growing grapes and making wines annually has put Penn State viticulture and enology Extension personnel and researchers in touch with real vintage struggles felt by industry members. Prior to the establishment of the NE-1020 vineyard plots, there was limited focus on viticulture and enology research that could apply to the entire state. [I should note, however, that Penn State has had active research programs in Entomology and Plant Pathology that were, and still are, quite pertinent to the wine grape community in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region.] The 2011 season was a perfect example in which the Penn State community committed to the NE-1020 project felt the effects of harvest season tropical storm and hurricane. While both sites were affected in different ways, we too dealt with low yields, increased disease pressure, and altered protocols for harvesting and wine production. It gave many members within the Penn State community some active speaking points to assist industry members. Other examples that pertain to this point include a greater awareness of enological issues, such as red wine color stability or dealing with heavy incidence of disease. These issues that are often iterated by industry members are also dealt with here at Penn State, and have been highlighted through processing and fermenting the NE-1020 varieties. This has led to point #2.
- Evaluating winemaking options to determine their effects on wine quality. Penn State Extension is actively listening to industry suggestions and applying enological questions they may have to our NE-1020 varietal study. In 2012, we began a series of yeast trials, which were tasted amongst industry members at the annual PA WMRB Symposium, based on suggestions made by industry members while I toured the state in 2011. Some of these yeast trials captured the interest of industry members, and a few people have altered some of their purchases based on the trials’ initial results. Additionally, red wine color stability was an issue that was brought to my attention through several regional visits in 2013. Therefore, we were able to design a few studies, with support from Lallemand and Enartis Vinquiry, to evaluate potential treatments that we have applied throughout the 2014 vintage year. These treatments are actively taking place, being evaluated and will be presented at the annual PA WMRB Symposium in 2015.
- The NE-1020 project allows us to record and evaluate micro-climates within Pennsylvania. One of the primary advantages of having 2 vineyard sites is being able to evaluate cultivar potential throughout regional differences within the state. This is actually one of the leading projects that I see as contributing to the definition of Pennsylvania’s regions and micro-climates. Tastings of those varieties that are planted at both Erie and Biglerville has led to a series of great industry discussions, questions, and future research trials. If you are interested in tasting some of these wines, please join us during the 2015 PA WMRB Symposium (in April at University Park, PA).
- The project initiated annual research winemaking and wine tasting at Penn State. At the 2012 PA WMRB Symposium, many industry members indicated that they had never tasted research wines before that day. I think this is a very valuable quality affiliated with the NE-1020 project. It has given Penn State the ability to produce research wines on an annual basis and develop a winemaking infrastructure. Research wines are never fully finished; the priority is to focus on varietal character in addition to physiological ripeness parameters (i.e. sugar and acid) during harvest and throughout production. Production for whites usually ends post-primary fermentation with a few rackings to get wines off of the lees. For reds, most wines are put through MLF before being placed in cold storage. Neither type of wine sees any oak treatment, fining, or filtration. This is done purposefully, with the intention that when industry members taste the wines, they can evaluate the particular treatment (whether it be vineyard or processing induced) and determine the wine’s potential (i.e. would it be good as is with little refinement, or should it go forward into an aging or oaking regime?). This concept of research winemaking and wine tasting is applied to many well-developed wine regions throughout the world and has helped progress the quality of wines in those particular regions.
- The NE-1020 project has allowed undergraduate students the opportunity to get real experience in viticulture and enology. I see Pennsylvania’s wine industry at the forefront of making great strides of progress in terms of wine quality. Much of this, I believe, starts with wine education. The NE-1020 project has provided a network that now involves undergraduate students to actively learn about wine, winemaking, grape harvesting, production methodology, wine sanitation, wine styles, and analysis. These experiences have led to a plethora of opportunities for our undergraduate students including internships or co-ops at wineries within and outside of Pennsylvania, wine research opportunities at large wine companies, and extracurricular learning for wine certifications. 2014 is the first year in which I see the investment in our student population directly benefiting the wine industry. Several students are now graduating, exploring “harvest hop” opportunities in other countries, and bringing their education and experience back to the Pennsylvania industry. A few students have been hired at Pennsylvania wineries for full-time positions, and aim to help improve the quality of PA-produced wines consistently. This is a direction that I hope to see advance and progress Pennsylvania as time moves forward, and it with great appreciation that I thank the wineries that have actively taught or hired students to progress their winemaking careers.
“This material is based upon funding provided by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under agreement No. 2010-51181-21599”