Fresno State Dedicates Vineyard to Mechanization Research

Grape Day highlights redeveloped vineyard acreage and upgraded facilities

by Ted Rieger
Some of the equipment donations made to California State Unviersity, Fresno, were on display during Grape Day.
Fresno, Calif.—California State University, Fresno, is in the process of redeveloping 120 acres of campus vineyards. Fresno State’s Department of Viticulture and Enology and the Viticulture and Enology Research Center (VERC) use the vineyards for teaching, research and commercial grape production. During Grape Day 2014 on Aug. 5 attendees watched field demonstrations and toured of some of the recently redeveloped wine grape, table grape and raisin vineyards as well as the department’s laboratory, winery and research facilities.

Some 65 acres of campus vineyards are devoted to wine grape production. Future plans include planting a new 3.5-acre instructional block that will be on a four-year rotation to allow students to be involved in all aspects of vineyard production from planting to maturity of a first crop over a four-year period. Also planned is a variety block with 150 cultivars to include wine, table and raisin grape varieties and rootstocks. A trellis and irrigation demonstration block will feature commercial grape varieties trained with different trellis and irrigation system designs. The department also plans to build a new greenhouse facility for students to gain experience in vine-propagation practices.

Mechanization vineyard block in production
A 19-acre vineyard block designed for research, teaching and demonstration of vineyard mechanization was planted in May 2013 with French Colombard on 1103P rootstock with 11-foot spacing between rows and 6-foot spacing between vines. The block was planted with financial assistance from West Coast Grape Farming, a division of Bronco Wine Co., that also organized support and donations from grape industry suppliers for vine material, trellis and irrigation systems.

Fresno State viticulture professor Dr. S. Kaan Kurtural said French Colombard was chosen for the mechanization block because the variety is capable of producing large yields, and a purpose of the block is to demonstrate how mechanization can produce high yields and still maintain balanced cropping and high-quality fruit. The new vineyard has grown quickly and is expected to produce a small crop in 2014—only its second season after planting. Grapes produced in excess of research analysis needs will be marketed to commercial wineries and used by the campus winery.

The San Joaquin Valley produces about 50% of California’s annual wine grape tonnage by volume, but prices paid to growers are among the lowest in the state on a per-ton basis. Wine grape growers are looking for ways to reduce labor costs while maintaining high yields and achieving and improving fruit quality demanded by winery contracts. Kurtural said the goal in this vineyard block is to achieve yields up to 20 tons per acre of French Colombard while maintaining crop and vine balance and meeting grape and juice quality parameters. Kurtural said, “This new vineyard block will be 100% mechanically managed. It is designed with a single high-wire trellis and has no T-bar trellis stakes that a mechanized pruning tool must open and close when passing around.” Vine vigor will be managed by irrigation. As a result of French Colombard’s growth pattern and the trellis design, it will not require shoot thinning.

Fresno State recently received mechanized equipment donations totaling $120,000—some were on display during Grape Day—to be used both on campus and for offsite research trials in other San Joaquin Valley vineyards. The Department of Viticulture and Enology offers a semester-long mechanized viticulture course that will also utilize the equipment.

The donated equipment includes a VMech 2220 tool carrier, a tow-behind unit attached to a vineyard tractor that serves as a platform to attach tools for mechanized operations. Tool attachments include a rotary pruner, a shoot thinner and a cordon brush. The equipment was donated by Midwest Grower Supply, based in Stanberry, Mo., that acquired the Oxbo Vineyard Mechanization product line in April and now markets it as the VMech brand. Kurtural used this type of equipment for recent mechanization field trials in commercial vineyards, with assistance from the former Oxbo equipment dealer in nearby Kingsburg. These field trials demonstrated that, when compared with hand-labor operations, mechanical box-pruning and shoot thinning could save money while maintaining vine balance and achieving similar or better yields and quality with varieties such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Gris grown in the San Joaquin Valley.

Graduate student Michael Cook demonstrated a Clemens mechanical leaf remover that was donated to Fresno State. The machine has been successfully used in research trials to open vine canopies to improve airflow and reduce disease pressure, and to allow more sunlight to reach grape clusters and improve color.

Grape Day attendees toured Kurtural’s lab in the VERC facility where researchers Geoff Dervishian and Tiffany Gunduz discussed how the yield and quality parameters of grapes are analyzed for current studies of the effects of irrigation management and specific canopy-management practices with mechanized operations. The lab uses high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) equipment and a spectrophotometer to analyze multiple grape skin and seed chemical compounds and concentrations.

Petrucci Library upgrades, fundraising campaign
The V.E. Petrucci Library, a valuable source of current and historical grape and wine information, recently moved to a larger, remodeled space within the VERC facility to better serve students, faculty and the industry. The library is named for Vincent E. Petrucci, a founder of the viticulture and enology programs at Fresno State and a former faculty member who donated many materials in the library.

The Petrucci Library is different among viticulture and enology libraries at U.S. universities in that it is embedded within the department’s academic facility rather than housed within the main campus library, as at most institutions. In addition, the library has its own full-time staff librarian. Britt Foster, hired in 2012, holds a master of library and information science degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and is a member of the American Library Association.

The library collection includes current and historic trade periodicals and scientific research journals, a collection of academic and research conference proceedings dating back to Petrucci’s attendance at conferences worldwide, a viticulture and enology book and textbook collection including historic books dating to the 1860s, and a collection of books about general agriculture and supporting sciences such as biochemistry, plant chemistry, soil science and microbiology.

Foster said, “The library is free and open to all, with industry and the general public invited to visit during open hours. Books and materials can be checked out by obtaining a community borrower’s card from the main campus Henry Madden Library.” Information about hours and collections resources is available online.

The library is supported by an endowment fund through the Viticulture and Enology Alumni Association. A yearlong fundraising campaign is in progress, started by former department chair Dr. Robert Wample, who has offered to match up to $40,000 in contributions made through Dec. 31, 2014. Foster said donations to date are near $20,000.

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