UC Food and Agriculture Blogs
For the first time since the 1980s, University of California, Davis, researchers have released new varieties of wine grapes. The five new varieties, three red and two white, are highly resistant to Pierce's disease, which costs California grape growers more than $100 million a year. The new, traditionally bred varieties also produce high-quality fruit and wine.
“People that have tasted the wine made from these varieties are extremely excited,” said Andrew Walker, geneticist and professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis, who developed the new Pierce's disease-resistant varieties. “They are impressed that they're resistant, but also that they make good wine.”
Pierce's disease a growing threat
Pierce's disease is caused by a bacterium spread by a group of insects called sharpshooters. It causes grapevine leaves to yellow or “scorch” and drop from the vine. The grape clusters also dehydrate, and infected vines soon die. While the disease has been around since the beginning of wine grape production in California, concerns have escalated with the arrival of the nonnative glassy-winged sharpshooter, which has the potential to spread the disease more rapidly. Pierce's disease occurs most often near rivers and creeks, and around urban and rural landscaping where sharpshooter populations reside.
Pierce's disease also threatens wine grapes in the southeastern U.S. Rising temperatures from climate change could increase the spread of the disease, which is thought to be limited by cold winters. Growers in the Southeast can usually only grow Pierce's disease resistant varieties that don't have the same wine quality as the European winegrape species, Vitis vinifera, which is typically grown in California.
New varieties more sustainable
To create the new varieties, Walker crossed a grapevine species from the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, Vitis arizonica, which carries a single dominant gene for resistance to Pierce's disease and was used to cross back to Vitis vinifera over four to five generations. It's taken about 20 years to develop the five patent-pending selections that are now being released.
“These varieties will hopefully make viticulture much more sustainable and provide a high-quality wine that the industry will welcome,” said Walker. “So far there has not been tremendous interest in new wine grape varieties, but climate change may encourage growers to reconsider wine grape breeding as we work to address future climates and diseases.”
Winemaker Adam Tolmach, owner of The Ojai Vineyard in Ojai, planted four of the new varieties as part of a 1.2-acre experimental field trial. The trial was on the same plot of land where Pierce's disease wiped out his grapes in 1995. The vineyard then and now is organic, so spraying insecticides to fight the disease spread wasn't an option.
“I wasn't interested in planting in that plot again until I heard about these new Pierce's disease-resistant grape varietals,” said Tolmach. “This year was the first harvest. We've just begun to evaluate the wine but I'm very encouraged.”
Five varieties to suit every taste
The five new varieties of wines were evaluated by sensory tasting panels. Tasters included leading industry winemakers and enologists in prominent wine-growing regions of California and Texas as well as regions in the southeastern U.S.
“What I think is exciting is that they're stand-alone varieties independent of whether they have Pierce's disease resistance,” said Doug Fletcher, former vice president of winemaking for Terlato Family Wine Group.
The three new red varieties are camminare noir, paseante noir and errante noir.
Camminare noir has characteristics of both cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah. The selection has ranked highly at numerous tastings of fruit grown in both Napa and Davis. Tasting comments: dark-red purple color, bright red fruit, raspberry, cherry, ripe, tannic, elegant rather than dense. The variety is 50% petite sirah and 25% cabernet sauvignon.
Paseante noir is similar to zinfandel. It has also been ranked highly at tastings. Tasting comments: medium dark red with purple; berry pie, cassis, black olive, herbal, dried hay, coffee, vegetal like cabernet sauvignon, licorice, round, moderate tannins, soft finish. The variety is 50% zinfandel, 25% petite sirah and 12.5% cabernet sauvignon.
Errante noir is a red winegrape most similar to a cabernet sauvignon and has great blending potential. Tasting comments: dark-red purple color; complex fruit with herbs and earth, plum, big wine, dense, rich middle, tannic yet balanced. The variety is 50% sylvaner and 12.5% each of cabernet sauvignon, carignane and chardonnay.
The two new white grape varieties are ambulo blanc and caminante blanc.
Ambulo blanc is similar to sauvignon blanc and has been tested in Temecula, Sonoma and along the Napa River. Tasting comments: light straw to clear color, citrus, lime, tropical, gooseberry, golden delicious apple flavors; bright fruit, slightly bitter, textured. The variety is 62.5% cabernet sauvignon, 12.5% carignane and 12.5% chardonnay.
Caminante blanc has characteristics of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Wines have been made from Davis fruit and ranked well. Field trials are underway at Pierce's disease hot spots in Ojai and Napa. Tasting comments: light straw-gold color, apple-melon, lychee, floral aromas, pineapple, green apple, juicy, harmonious, well-balanced. The variety is 62.5% cabernet sauvignon, 12.5% chardonnay and 12.5% carignane.
These five varieties are ready for patenting and release. There will be limited amounts of plant material available for propagation in 2020 as only a few of the grape nurseries participated in a pre-release multiplication program. Much more will be available in 2021. The Pierce's disease resistance breeding program continues, and more selections are approaching release.
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New studies provide details about trellis type, planting density, cost and potential benefit of vineyard mechanization
The studies estimate the cost of establishing a vineyard and producing wine grapes, focusing on four wine grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Rubired and Colombard.
“Those studies take into consideration mechanical pruning, leafing, shoot thinning, and harvest on a typical wine grape vineyard with the average production level for this region,” said George Zhuang, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor in Fresno County.
“With farming labor becoming more scarce and expensive, growers will opt to transition into more mechanization,” Zhuang said. “These studies provide detailed information about the trellis type, planting density, cost and potential benefit of vineyard mechanization. Based on these studies, fully implemented mechanization reduces the production cost from $3,000 to $2,500 per acre and that represents 17% cost reduction. This information will ultimately help growers to guide their production practices to more profitable and competitive ways under the new era of farming labor.”
“The investment to purchase and own equipment can be high,” Zhuang said. “Fortunately, it is easy to find a contractor in this region to perform certain vineyard tasks, if the initial investment to purchase equipment is prohibitive.”
Numerous studies, including UC studies, have confirmed the benefits of vineyard mechanization to grape and wine quality with lower production costs.
“It is a win-win-win situation,” Zhuang said. “Growers can improve their farming margins, wineries and juice processing plants can get reliable and higher quality grapes and juice from farms, and average consumers can enjoy better wine and more healthy grape products at an affordable price.”
The studies are based on 200-acre farms with the vineyard established on 40 acres using two types of trellis systems – quadrilateral cordon system and bilateral cordon system. In addition to regular grape production expenses – such as irrigation, fertilization and pest control – the researchers broke out the differences between machinery costs and hand labor hours required for thinning, pruning and harvesting for each variety.The prices for labor, materials, equipment and custom services are based on October 2019 figures.
Input and reviews were provided by UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors, specialists, grower cooperators and other agricultural associates. The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for wine grape establishment and production, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. A ranging analysis table shows profits over a range of prices and yields.
The new studies are:
- 2019 - Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Winegrapes in the Southern San Joaquin Valley – Chardonnay Variety
- 2019 - Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Winegrapes in the Southern San Joaquin Valley –Cabernet Sauvignon Variety
- 2019 - Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Winegrapes in the Southern San Joaquin Valley – Rubired Variety
- 2019 - Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Winegrapes in the Southern San Joaquin Valley – Colombard Variety
All four winegrape studies can be downloaded from the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost of production studies for many other commodities are also available on the website.
For information about local grape production, contact George Zhuang, UCCE viticulture advisor for Fresno County, at email@example.com; UCCE viticulture specialist Matt Fidelibus at firstname.lastname@example.org; UCCE viticulture specialist Kaan Kurtural at email@example.com; Karl Lund, UCCE viticulture advisor for Madera, Merced and Mariposa counties, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Gabriel Torres, UCCE viticulture advisor for Kings and Tulare counties, at email@example.com.
The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) marked the first major update to school meal guidelines across America in 15 years. Prior to HHFKA, there were no restrictions on salt, fat content in milk, or trans fats. Fruits and vegetables were grouped together, and there were no guidelines about increasing variety. In addition, snacks (i.e., competitive foods, since they compete with the school meal program) were not regulated, which meant that students could purchase junk food like candy bars and soda through vending machines right next to the cafeteria.
At the same time, childhood obesity rates were continuing to increase, along with risk factors associated with chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. With the updated regulations for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, millions of students across the U.S. got access to healthier meals, more in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
But what about the other foods that are available to kids during the school day? If a cookie is being sold right next to the school lunch and at a lower price, why not just buy the cookie? Or if you know your class is getting brownies from the teacher later, why get lunch at all?
The answer: New standards under the HHFKA set regulations on snacks that can be sold during the school day. Now called Smart Snacks, these food items must align with federal nutrition standards. Such standards include being at least:
- 50% whole grain OR
- having the first ingredient on the nutrition label be a fruit, vegetable, dairy product or protein food OR
- being a combination food where at least ¼ cup of the snack is a fruit or vegetable.
Many granola bars, popcorn, crackers and even treats like brownies can be a Smart Snack. Whole fruit, vegetables and frozen fruit in water or 100% fruit juice are always Smart Snacks. These standards are also required for fundraisers and events that occur during the school day, basically anytime money is exchanged for food at school. Surprising to most, the school day (for the purpose of school food regulations) actually starts at midnight before and ends 30 minutes after the last class of the day.
What makes a snack 'smart'?
Don't worry, it's not just kale chips and broccoli stalks (although kale chips and broccoli are awesome!). There are a variety of Smart Snacks that fit the taste preferences for every age range.
As parents, community partners, school boosters and school staff, we all have a role in ensuring our youth have access to healthier snacks at school. It's also the law if your school participates in the federal school meal program. To find out if the food you want to sell or give out to kids makes the smart snack grade, you can check out the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Smart Snack online calculator, where you can enter in the nutrition information from the food label. Also, large online retailers like Costco and Amazon have Smart Snacks stores where you can browse and purchase a variety of compliant Smart Snacks. These standards have been around for some time now, but many people are still unfamiliar with them or don't understand their importance.
While Smart Snacks rules only apply to food that is sold to students during the school day, other policies - like your district's Local School Wellness Policy – may govern what can be provided to students on campus through rewards and incentives or at school celebrations. So, while there are regulations about what can be sold at school during the school day, why stop there? Why not make your after school fundraiser or snack shack healthy? Why not use smart snacks instead of sugary treats? Or even better, use non-food incentives like a birthday book instead of the same sugary cupcakes that come around each time there is a birthday. Instead of selling soda for $1 with the hotdog meal at the school carnival, try sparkling water or a hydration station with fruit infused water and a prize if you bring your own reusable water bottle. Just like clothes and movies, healthy and sustainable foods are becoming more trendy and lucrative for your fundraiser!
Overall, Smart Snacks are an important complement to the national school meal program and can be a great way to help students maintain growth and success in the classroom while also helping to maintain healthy lifestyles throughout life. Let your PTA and school partners know with this new infographic.
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