Sweet Seventeen

On this day, August 28 (and the next) in 2003, the National Grape Research Alliance was born.

The organization didn’t have a name yet. It wasn’t even an organization yet. It was just a two-day meeting of 20 wine industry representatives and academics from UC Davis, concerned about what was then considered a crisis of research funding. There, they developed a process for establishing research priorities that would mutually benefit the wine industry, and academic and research organizations. Soon after, the group officially formed the Winegrower’s Critical Research Investment Initiative (WCRII).

Together, these 20 forward-thinkers outlined a vision for the future of grape and wine research and funding, and for how industry, university research institutions, the USDA and other government agencies, could work together. They sought to ensure that the American grape industries would lead the world in wine science, innovation, economic impact, and environmental and business practices. Indeed, they would later set a goal that, by 2020 (this year!), the grape and wine industry’s economic impact would triple, from a conservative estimate of $50 billion then, to $150 billion now. It turned out that the group aimed far too low. In 2017, long-time member WineAmerica reported annual economic impact of $219.9 billion–for the wine industry alone!

In 2005, the WCRII changed its name to the National Grape & Wine Initiative (NGWI), acknowledging that, by working collectively across all grape sectors, the organization would be stronger and have a greater voice. At this point, leaders from the California Table Grape Commission, Sun-Maid Growers of California and the National Grape Cooperative/Welch’s joined in, as did industry representatives from across the nation.

In December 2007, Wine Business Monthly produced a special edition of the magazine titled, “The Wine Industry Research Gap.” In it, there was a whole article introducing NGWI, written by Mary Wagner, who was, at the time, Chief Technology Officer at E. & J. Gallo Winery and an architect of NGWI. By then, among other accomplishments, the organization already had helped to create what we now know as the National Clean Plant Network (then called the National Clean Stock Network), initiated an ARS research planning workshop with industry (which continues), facilitated creation of the National Grape Registry (the precursor to the web-based catalog at Foundation Plant Services) and helped to launch what would become the annual grassroots National Viticulture and Enology Extension Leadership Conference, which we continue to support today.

In 2008, NGWI hired its first full-time President, Jean-Mari Peltier, who led the organization for more than seven years and helped to coalesce and obtain funding for such landmark projects as Efficient Vineyard (see Research Focus below) and VitisGen. I came along in 2017, just as our members decided that, after more than a decade in operation, a new, more inclusive name was in order–one that underscored our allied effort and research focus. In 2018, we became the National Grape Research Alliance.

NGRA is fortunate to have so many of those original pioneers–or their successors at the same company–still involved. Jerry Lohr (shown above), who was the founding chair of the organization, says, “J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines firmly believes in the power of research to advance the grape and wine industry, and in NGRA as a major force of that change. We remain proud members and leaders of the organization.”

I remember being 17. That’s when I graduated high school and, by August of that year, started college. It’s an age of intense learning and growing, finding your way in the world and discovering who you are–and who you can be–in it. I’d say that’s about where NGRA is now, after 17 years. We’ve come a long way…and have a long way to go!

Happy birthday, NGRA!