Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Kent State University at Ashtabula’s viticulture and enology degree programs were recently awarded a $180,000 grant from the Ohio Grape Industries Committee for a pair of research projects to be conducted over the next two years.

Kent State Ashtabula is partnering with the Ashtabula Agricultural Research Station (AARS), a division of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, to conduct the projects at Markko Vineyard in Conneaut, Ohio.

“We have been offering the wine degrees for over 10 years and have become increasingly involved in the Ohio industry,” said Lori Lee, senior special assistant and viticulture and enology program liaison. “This grant is an opportunity to further strengthen our involvement with the industry by working with the AARS and producing innovative applied research that will help Ohio’s wineries remain competitive.”

Lee, Kent State Ashtabula wine degrees lead faculty Ed Trebets and AARS research specialist and station manager Andrew Kirk are the principal investigators.

“Our focus will be on two research projects where the outcomes will be easily replicable and scalable for wineries of various sizes,” Lee said. “And our faculty will enhance our existing curriculum and provide our students with the opportunity to participate in some stages of research.”

The first of the two projects involves the evaluation of sour rot thresholds for wine quality optimization. Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Riesling grapes are picked, sorted and crushed based on sour rot infection levels and then placed into two sodium dioxide (S02) treatment groups.

“Vineyards put a lot of manual labor and time into picking around rot,” said Lee. “Looking at infection levels and chemical management and determining if some rot can be included and not incur any major chemical changes or a reduction in quality and taste, thereby lead to increased efficiency and productivity in the vineyards.”

“We’re really happy to be working with Kent State Ashtabula, which brings a really strong educational focus to this research,” said Kirk. “Our industry really benefits from collaboration between different institutions and I think we have a very diverse team in place with different skill sets.”

According to Kirk, sour rot has been an issue for some time but has reached a critical stage and become a hot research topic in the last five-to-10 years with new insect pests that promote the spread more rapidly. This rapid spread and a recommended “zero tolerance” policy from agricultural governing bodies can result – when there is a confluence of highly susceptible varieties like those being studied and highly conducive environmental conditions- in producers being left with one-third to half of their yearly fruit being wasted.

“A zero-tolerance policy sounds vastly different to a grape grower than it does to us in academia,” he noted. “Our research is different than most because it acknowledges the reality that there is a certain amount of pain that goes into having zero tolerance with this fruit and examines if it is salvageable at all. Can we manage those ill effects? Can we still use it? What happens when you do?

“We’re looking at it in a really applied framework, a really different approach. It’s unique in that sense.”

The second project analyzes handling methods for stability of pétillant naturel, or “pét-nat”, sparkling wine. The investigation will discern the effect of different levels of intervention at different sweetness levels on the overall stability of the wines. Sauvignon Blanc and Saperavi grapes, as well as Chardonel juice, are being used for this investigation.

Markko Vineyard has leased space to the team to conduct research activities within its production facilities, located less than five miles from the AARS. Markko has also permitted the team to harvest grapes for the sour rot project within the specifications needed. Grapes have also come from the AARS while additional grapes and juice were procured from other area vineyards and wineries.

“A hallmark of the Northeast Ohio wine region has been collaboration and this project is a fine example of entities working together in an effort to provide educational research that benefits everyone in the area,” added Lee. “We are excited and grateful to partner with Andy and the AARS and Markko Vineyards on these projects.”