$150,000 headed to N.D. grape group

FARGO, N.D. -- The North Dakota Grape Growers Association was notified Oct. 20 that it will receive a $30,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's another $120,000 of state funds for development in the state.

FARGO, N.D. -- The North Dakota Grape Growers Association was notified Oct. 20 that it will receive a $30,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's another $120,000 of state funds for development in the state.

"This will help our industry on a variety of fronts," says Greg Krieger of Galesburg, N.D., a crop consultant and president of the grape growers, who help lead the newly formed state Grape and Wine Program Committee. The committee met for the first time Sept. 17 and likely will meet in November to consider their next steps.

The 2009 Legislature approved spending up to $250,000 for the 2009 to '10 biennium, on 4-to-1 match of state general funds to other private or grant funds. It would take $62,500 in matching dollars to trigger all of the appropriation. USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant, administered through the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, qualifies as a match.

There are 34 vineyards in the state in 19 of the state's 53 counties. Growers have some 18,000 grape vines, according to the association. As with other crops, grapes suffered this year from not getting enough heat units to ripen the grapes.

"We delayed harvest as long as we could get them ripe, but it was a battle," says Krieger, who operates Long Shadow Vineyard. This growing season came after the second year in a row of colder-than-average temperatures and increased winterkill.


Setting standards

The new Grape and Wine Program Committee is focused on improving the industry.

In mid-September, the new committee met for the first time and talked, among other things, about where it might spend some of the funding, assuming that the matching grant could be acquired.

Variety research is one of the initial objectives, Krieger says.

"What we really need are some good-quality, cold-hardy, early-maturing wine grape varieties that will thrive in our state," Krieger says.

NDSU is doing some varietal screenings.

"There are some varieties that live here, but so many of them have a shortcoming in one area or another -- maybe they're not hardy enough; maybe they can't mature in our seasons or don't make good win," he says.

The group discussed preliminary goals for variety standards.


Red varieties, for example, would need to have moderate tannin structure and would need to survive at 40 below zero Fahrenheit. They would need to achieve 23 percent sugar content and a pH level of 3.3.

White grapes, on the other hand, need to achieve 20 percent sugar and a pH of 3.2. Both would need to ripen with growing degree days, using GDD parameters similar to the corn production. Grapes are perennials and their GDDs are measured from May 1.

Krieger says the committee hopes for some rapid screening of cultivars. Under normal conditions, it takes five years or more to grow a new variety from seed and to the wine production, which can be evaluated.

Recent Minnesota releases -- Marquette, Frontenac, Frontenac gris and La Crescent -- came with great expectations, but it turns out they aren't cold-hardy enough for much of North Dakota, Krieger says. Those four varieties currently account for one in three wine grape vines grown in the state.

"They shouldn't be planted in cold locations," Krieger says.

"Plus, I think they need closer to 2,200 GDDs for ripeness, or even 2,300," Krieger says. "That might be a very good group of varieties for South Dakota, but too tender and too long-seasoned for much of North Dakota."

Growing the industry

Krieger says the committee also will work on ways to encourage more wineries and more grapes being grown in the state. Grower education and public awareness about such things as herbicide spray drift will be a part of that.


The committee already decided to spend some of the expected grant funding on hiring Mark Hart, owner of Mount Ashwabay Vineyard and Orchard of Bayfield, Wis., as a consultant to study the state's existing facilities and future needs.

The committee was officially established July 1, and members were selected in late August. They include Krieger, as a designee of the North Dakota commissioner of agriculture; Tom Plocher of Hugo, Minn., designee of the North Dakota State University vice president for agriculture and university extension; Jeff Peterson, Burlington, N.D., designee of the North Dakota governor; Jacob Belanger of Hawley, Minn., designee of the Department of Commerce; Rodney Howe of Hettinger, N.D., chairman of the State Board of Agricultural Research and Education; Rod Ballinger of Fargo, N.D., and Allen Verbitsky of Sawyer, N.D, both designees of the North Dakota Grape Growers Association.

Ballinger, owner of Bear Creek Winery in south Fargo, was named chairman of the committee. Members serve two-year terms, beginning in the first of each odd-numbered year and may be reappointed. The growers association, which includes wineries and grape growers, appoints one of its two designees to the chairmanship.

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