Counting Our Blessings, Missing Our Chocolate-Covered Raisins

As with many meetings and events in our current pandemic culture, the NGRA Mid-Year Board meeting on June 19 was held entirely via Zoom. We typically offer remote meeting access for Board Directors who can’t attend in person. This was the first time the whole meeting was conducted online. It was fine, but…

Because of the virtual format, the agenda was greatly condensed–from the usual six hours to three. And the networking aspects of the meeting–dinner the evening before and lunch during the proceedings–were absent. To me, the conversations that take place and relationships that are built during these informal parts of the agenda are just as–if not more–important as the meeting itself. Losing these elements, then, is a big loss. However, the content of and attendance at the meeting spoke to our sustained focus on research in support of the grape and wine industry.

Board Chairman Russ Smithyman (Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) reported on the pandemic’s impact on NGRA’s research mission, particularly as it relates to new and ongoing projects with our colleagues at academic institutions and government agencies. I spoke about the impact to our administrative activities, including closing our brick-and-mortar office for the foreseeable future and adapting our meetings and events to a mix of virtual and (in time, hopefully) in-person gatherings. The financial report by Secretary/Treasurer Dan Martinez (Martinez Orchards) reflected a financially stable organization despite the crisis.

Other aspects of the meeting seemed almost normal. We welcomed a new At-Large Representative, Roy Oneto (Cakebread Cellars), to our Board. On behalf of our Science Advisory Council, Sally Schneider, USDA-ARS (retired), gave an update on developments at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and UC Davis, and advised on the process for and progress of the federal budget for fiscal year 2021. Scott Bradford, the newly hired Research Leader for the USDA-ARS Sustainable Agricultural Water Systems Research Unit in Davis, CA, gave an overview of the vision and direction for the new unit.

As usual, the bulk of the meeting focused on the work of our Research Committee, the heart of what we do. The comprehensive report led by Research Chair Nick Dokoozlian (E. & J. Gallo Winery) included updates on the projects we’re initiating, appropriations requests we’re advancing and the roster of Research Committee members we’ve just refreshed (see Research Focus below), whose work with us is just beginning.

It was lovely to see the faces of so many of our members and stakeholders, and terrific to be able to move the ball forward on the science and issues that are important to our industry. But we miss the magic of meeting in person: deeper discussions, (re)new(ed) connections and Rick Stark’s reliable contribution of Sun-Maid chocolate-covered raisins for all. For now, Zoom will have to do!