South Dakota State University is part of a USDA-funded project to stimulate the profitability and sustainability of an expanding cold-climate grape and wine industry in South Dakota and a dozen northern states.

Production and sales of cold-climate wines are expected to double in the next five years. This multistate, multi-institutional project will examine the winemaking process from startup to sustainably profitable. Areas of focus include improving the taste and quality of cold-hardy grapes that thrive in northern climates, identifying pest and disease control strategies to protect those crops, and establishing unique regional marketing identities for wineries in rural areas of the Midwest and Northeast, spurring economic development and growth.

South Dakota effort

The SDSU cohort is headed by Anne Fennell, professor of plant science, who will lead the fruit composition/genetics team, which also includes researchers from the University of Minnesota. SDSU will receive $180,448 and be responsible for identification and characterization of novel flavor and aroma compounds that define quality in new cold hardy cultivars and for vineyard trials in South Dakota.

"SDSU is leading the effort to integrate components of fruit quality from gene expression to the flavors the consumer tastes," said Fennell. "This is a completely integrated project, applying genomic tools we have developed at SDSU, conducting field studies with growers and marketing studies to promote a strong industry."

Other members of the SDSU team include Rhoda Burrows, professor of plant science, who will serve on the vineyard studies team, along with Dong He, assistant professor of bioinformatics, and Jun Ye, assistant professor of biostatistics, who will provide data integration and statistical analysis.

"This research award demonstrates South Dakota State University’s scientists’ recognized leadership in cold-climate grape and wine industry research," said Daniel Scholl, director of South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. "Our scientists are able to leverage the unique position of the Experiment Station and SDSU by virtue of its geographical location and long-standing strong relationships with South Dakota’s growers combined with effective campus-wide collaborative relationships, to provide science-based solutions to some of the challenges faced by the state’s growers. It is our responsibility and privilege to continue to cultivate these relationships internally on campus and with our constituents in the state to provide our scientists an environment in which they can flourish. Their discoveries promote the state’s economic and lifestyle successes."

South Dakota growers from the Belle Joli Winery in Belle Fourche, Lewis & Clark Vineyard near Yankton and ChrisaMari Vineyard near Pierre are among state industry partners participating in the project.

The total award from USDA is for $2.5 million over 24 months. Cornell University will lead the overall effort, with a team including researchers from SDSU, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, North Dakota State University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Illinois, the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska, the University of Vermont and the University of Wisconsin.

According to Tim Martinson, overall project director at Cornell, prospects are good for renewal funding to cover an additional three years set out in the project proposal.