On Location, in Real Time

A Texas Hill Country sunset*

November brought the most intensive travel schedule I’ve attempted since before the pandemic. Across three weeks and three states (Texas, Arkansas and California), I attended three conferences; hosted NGRA’s Year-End Board meeting and dinner; toured beautiful (and tasty) Arkansas Wine Country and sampled muscadine grapes and wine, both for the first time. Here are some highlights:

At NGRA’s Board meeting in Fredericksburg, TX: In our first gathering since our strategic planning meeting in July, our highly engaged Board of Directors clearly had been ruminating about “NGRA 2.0” and our research mission. With a new strategic plan to be ratified in January, and plans to revisit our industry-driven research priorities and brainstorm new and needed research in 2023, the new year is coming into exciting focus.

At the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association’s Grape Camp in Dripping Springs, TX: I met grape growers in Texas growing the Pierce’s disease-resistant vines from Dr. Andy Walker’s UC Davis breeding program. They had interesting—and hopeful—observations about the promising varieties’ performance and seemed thrilled to have a front-row seat as research outcomes literally take root.

At the Arkansas Association of Grape Growers’ annual conference in Springdale, AR (where I gave a talk about industry’s role in research): I learned from fellow speaker Dr. Margaret Worthington of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture about breeding efforts to improve muscadines for broader fresh-market appeal. That means developing seedless berries with thinner skins and firmer flesh. She and her breeding team hope to release two new muscadine grape cultivars in 2023.

At the Vineyard Team’s Sustainable Ag Expo in San Luis Obispo, CA: I felt lucky to be in the audience to hear early, not-yet-published research from Dr. Marc Fuchs’ Cornell lab that seems to have confirmed, under field conditions, that the three-cornered alfalfa hopper is in fact a (if not, the) vector for grapevine red blotch virus.

Beyond all that I learned and saw during my travel marathon this month, the best part was the immersion in the community of people who believe in science as a means of advancing the grape and wine industry. I met amazing new colleagues and joyously reconnected with others I hadn’t seen in years. It was energizing yet exhausting—and I’d do it all again. Why? Because it’s critical for our national organization to be engaged in conversations about grape research, on location and in real time.

To all of you I met and reconnected with, thank you—it was an absolute blast!

Donnell Brown
NGRA President
November 30, 2022

*About the photo:
William Chris Vineyards in Hye, TX, provided ample Southern hospitality, including this expansive vineyard view and dreamy sunset, for NGRA’ Board dinner on November 1.