The Fruit of Research

Jessica Youngblood in her block of Petite Pearl, a cold-hardy red wine variety

I’ve been a member of the National Grape Research Alliance for five years, and am honored to now serve as the Board Chairwoman for an organization that personally means so much to me. Why do I believe in the importance of research as a mechanism to support the grape and wine industry? Because my family business is made possible by research. I see its results every day in my own vineyard.

I own a 25-acre cold-hardy wine grape vineyard in metro Detroit. Growing wine grapes in the Midwest is not for the faint of heart, and the grapes that I grow did not even exist a few decades ago, some not even one decade ago. I once read an interview with a Midwest winemaker who commented that a “Midwest Burgundy” was “the dream.” Imagine that: a cold-hardy wine grape that could rival the dry red Pinot Noirs made in the most renowned wine region of the world.

Well, thanks to exactly the kind of research NGRA supports, we have our Midwest Burgundy; it’s called Marquette. It was developed by the University of Minnesota and commercially released in 2006, just nine years before we planted it on our farm. As the genetic grandchild of those same Pinot Noir grapes from a half a world away, it has not only won numerous awards for its wine quality, but is also now being grown far outside the Midwest, due to considerations driven by climate change.

And it’s not just new grape varieties that can create the potential for entirely new wine regions. In the Midwest, we have a whole lot of three things that make having a vineyard more challenging: lots of humidity, lots of weeds, and lots of bugs! The research that supports vine management, pesticide applications, as well as vineyard mechanization are all crucial to supporting the entire industry, and literally make it possible to have vineyards in places most might not consider “grape country.”

But by far the best thing about the NGRA is the strong collaborative attitude that supports all grapes. Juice grapes, raisin grapes, wine grapes and table grapes sit on equal footing and are fully supported by millions of dollars of research. The NGRA helps steer that research and grow the industry through the development of knowledge to make growing grapes not just possible, but more productive, sustainable and competitive.

NGRA’s work doesn’t focus on just one specific state or region, but benefits the grape and wine industry throughout the United States. Hot climates, cold climates and everything in between have more grape-growing potential than ever before. Whether you are on the East Coast or West Coast, Midwest or Southwest, or you’re growing 30 acres or 30,000, research is literally redrawing the grape-growing map.

So, bring on the cold and damp, the bugs, and weeds. I know that, whatever issue I encounter while growing my grapes, I have a direct line to a receptive group of science-minded industry colleagues and smart, energetic scientists focused on fixing our common problems. It’s unbelievably exciting—and comforting—to be part of NGRA’s mission. We support the research that matters most, and all to support the most amazing of fruits—the GRAPE!

Jessica Youngblood
NGRA Board Chairwoman
Owner, Youngblood Vineyard