A Dark Harvest

Harvest is usually a bustling, positive time of year, when the fruits of growers’ labors are ripe and ready for the next phase of their journey, whether that’s drying for raisin production, packing and storing for fresh consumption, or pressing for juice or wine. But from coast to coast, this year’s harvest has had a dark cloud (literally and figuratively) above it.

Massive, historic wildfires in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and California (new ones raging Napa and Sonoma Counties as I type). Hurricanes bearing heavy winds, rain and tornadoes to eastern states. Record heat across the western U.S., Southeast and Northeast, including a “nonsoon” in Arizona and the hottest-ever temperature on Earth in Death Valley. All in the context of a global pandemic and its public health and economic implications for all.

Living in California, I’ve felt these impacts most keenly: the dense, even hazardous air quality, the eerie orange sky with ash sifting down, the worry for colleagues in danger of losing not only their homes but their livelihoods, as buildings and fruit are potentially exposed to and/or consumed by smoke and flame. Wildfires have not swept into more urban areas like Sacramento, where NGRA is based, but so often these days it seems that even the unthinkable is entirely possible.

When so much is uncertain and so much at stake, it can be hard to see the path ahead. But that’s what research is all about: solving the problems we have today with innovations tomorrow. Whether by analyzing grape smoke exposure effects (Elizabeth Tomasino, Oregon State University), as referenced below and in our spreadsheet of funded grape research across the U.S., or developing more precise nutrient management tools and techniques for an evolving viticulture landscape (Dr. Markus Keller, WSU), as outlined in the Research Focus below, research offers hope. These projects are proof that science is a means to achieving a brighter future.

If you work in the grape and wine industry and feel inspired by this moment to play a part in shaping research, I invite you to get involved, not only with NGRA but with any of the other organizations that seek to advance our industry through science, such as the American Society of Enology and Viticulture, American Vineyard Foundation and The Vineyard Team, which kindly invited me to give a talk on this subject as part of their International Sustainable Winegrowing Summit this year. States and commodities also have robust research committees that could use your input.

Maybe, by taking an active role in identifying and furthering our industry’s research needs, you can bring some light to this year’s dark harvest.