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By Sarah Thompson
  • Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture
  • Cornell AgriTech
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section
For the first time in more than two decades, U.S. consumers are drinking less wine.

Younger consumers aren’t engaging with it like their older peers, and are drinking less in general, but sustainably produced wine could change that. According to a 2019 Wine Intelligence consumer survey, sustainable wine had the highest future purchase consideration. And nine in 10 millennials said they’d be willing to pay more for it.

“Over the last decade, consumers have become more concerned with the provenance of their products, how they’re grown and what inputs are going into the ground to support their harvest,” said Sam Filler, executive director of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation (NYWGF).

To respond to this shift, Cornell experts are helping New York state wineries navigate new research, farming techniques, technologies and business trends to become leaders in sustainability.

Nearly 480 winemakers, grape growers, distributors, marketers, educators and others attended the seventh annual B.E.V. NY conference and symposium, Feb. 26-28 in Henrietta, New York. The event was organized by the Cornell University Enology Extension Laboratory, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Finger Lakes Grape Program and the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

For Justine Vanden Heuvel, associate professor of viticulture at Cornell AgriTech, vineyard sustainability starts in the ground. She presented preliminary research and field studies on using fungal spores as biofertilizers, reporting that mycorrhizae – which are naturally symbiotic with grapevine roots – improve water and nutrient uptake and help prevent soil erosion. They are also known to increase plant resistance to disease and pests.

Other Cornell research is using light to create a more sustainable future. David Gadoury, senior research associate, leads an interdisciplinary research team that has successfully used ultraviolet light to control powdery mildew in grapes. This chemical-free method also seems to reduce the severity of sour rot in vignoles grapes, suppress mites and increase resistance to downy mildew.

Katie Gold, Cornell AgriTech’s new plant pathologist, is using broad spectrum light sensors in the vineyard to detect powdery mildew and other disease infections before they can be seen with the naked eye. Gold hopes to develop imagery that growers can use to make more precise and cost-effective disease management decisions.

The focus on sustainability helped drive attendance to an all-time high for B.E.V. NY’s Business Day, the sessions planned in partnership with the NYWGF. From these and the sessions during Enology Day, attendees learned how to use macro data in marketing; explored strategic expansion of wine sales outside the tasting room; and learned how to overcome winemaking challenges with better cleaning protocols and sensory training.

Art Hunt, owner and founder of Hunt Country Vineyards, has attended all seven B.E.V. NY conferences, and over the past 45 years has collaborated with Cornell researchers on at least one study annually.

“There is always more to learn in each area of our various businesses,” Hunt said. “We’re constantly reading about new trends and technologies. At B.E.V. NY, we get much more in-depth information and analysis on these, often from those directly involved in their development. Also, like us, many growers willingly cooperate with Cornell researchers to get in on the ground floor of promising new information.”

At the conference, two industry awards presented by the NYWGF underscored these longstanding relationships.

Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture extension specialist for Cornell’s Finger Lakes Grape Program, received the Researcher Award for his work with the state’s grape growers. And Hunt Country Vineyards received the Sustainability Award in recognition of its leadership in sustainable practices.

 “Cornell AgriTech is a vital partner for ensuring the ongoing health and success of the vineyards in our state,” Filler said. “Together, we’ll be able to find solutions that are feasible for New York grape growers and wineries, and that respond to what consumers want.”

Header image: Eric Bauman, sparkling winemaker at Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery in Hammondsport, New York, evaluates wines for flaws as part of a sensory training. Photo by  R.J. Anderson/Cornell University

Sarah Thompson is a freelance writer for Cornell AgriTech.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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