College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Voice of the Vine: clean vines, sparkling wine, Wine Science Center, wine webinar, cookbook contest (Feb. 2015)

Partnerships key to healthy Northwest grapevines

Retiring operations manager’s career highlights program’s successes

Gary Ballard, operations manager, tending grapevines at the Clean Plant Center Northwest in Prosser.
Gary Ballard, operations manager, tending grapevines at the Clean Plant Center Northwest in Prosser.

Washington’s grape industry has seen accelerating growth over the past several decades. That momentum is owed, in part, to the vision and hard work of people like Gary Ballard, the retiring operations manager of Washington State University’s Clean Plant Center Northwest Grape Program.

Formerly known as the NorthWest Grape Foundation Service, the Clean Plant Center has been producing “clean” grapevines for Northwest growers since 1961. Now in its tenth year under its current name and structure, the center is a reliable source for growers to buy planting stock from 300 grapevine varieties that are state-certified as being tested free of 30 targeted viruses.

Ballard—who graduated from WSU in 1971 with a master’s degree in plant pathology—will retire in April after 12 years as the Clean Plant Center’s operations manager and a career focused on plant pathology. In 2003, he left a lucrative private industry job to work for WSU, out of conviction for what he believes a clean-plant program means for the grape industry.

Viruses cause smaller yields and lower quality fruits—which end up costing growers, winemakers and consumers. Today, thanks to the work of Ballard and many others, vineyard owners who choose healthy, virus-tested planting material continue to see greater yields and higher quality grapes.

Providing clean grapevines to the Northwest and beyond

The Clean Plant Center Northwest is part of a national network of foundation vineyards, certified nurseries and growers. (Click image to enlarge.)
The Clean Plant Center Northwest is part of a national network of foundation vineyards, certified nurseries and growers. (Click image to enlarge.)

The Clean Plant Center is part of the National Clean Plant Network, which promotes the use of healthy plant material for important specialty crops in the United States. The University of California at Davis serves as headquarters for the grapevine network, with other centers located at Florida A&M University, Missouri State University and Cornell University.

In the Northwest, clean plants are produced at the Clean Plant Center’s foundation vineyard at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser. Customers include certified nurseries, university and federal research programs, and grape growers in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and beyond.

“We’re still a Pacific Northwest organization, although it seems we’re becoming a main source for the northern states and eastern seaboard states,” Ballard said. Sometimes growers purchase vines from the Clean Plant Center because their climate matches Washington’s more than other centers that are geographically closer.

“We go a little bit further because of the crown gall disease that happens quite often in the northern states,” said Ballard, explaining why the Clean Plant Center ships grapevines as far as New York, Michigan, Minnesota and Texas. “Grapevines can suffer winter injury and if there’s bacteria inside that plant, it causes the onset of crown gall disease. If there’s no damage, then that bacteria lies latent. In warmer climates where you don’t get cold weather injury, it’s not a problem, so they don’t deal with it to the extent we do.”

In the Northwest, clean plants are grown at the Clean Plant Center’s foundation vineyard at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.
Virus-free grapevines are grown at the Clean Plant Center Northwest’s foundation vineyard at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.

Kevin Judkins is co-owner of Inland Desert Nursery along with his father Tom and brother Jerry. They are the largest certified nursery for grapevines in Washington. Judkins said the protocols to combat diseases such as crown gall that California was not dealing with were improved in 2004, after Ballard came on board.

In 2003, WSU viticulture professor Markus Keller hired Ballard to manage the NorthWest Grape Foundation Service. Keller led the program at the time.

“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Keller said. “Gary doesn’t just work with clean grapevines, he IS clean grapevines. Without him, the program simply would not have happened.”

“My role in the program was to basically do it,” Ballard explained. “At that time there were three of us in the program, excluding Markus: me, myself and I. I did all the tissue culture work. I did all the greenhouse maintenance. I developed a foundation vineyard and did all the maintenance there as well.”

Soon Ballard was so busy that he needed help. Around this same time, WSU merged their clean plant programs for grapes, fruit trees and hops under Director Ken Eastwell.

The plant doctor is in

Despite carefully coordinated efforts by growers and the Washington Department of Agriculture to keep infected grapevines out of Washington, plant pathogens infiltrate the borders from time to time and clean plants become infected when weakened by stress or environmental damage. That’s when WSU grape virologist Naidu Rayapati steps in to diagnose and treat grapevine ailments. He works with industry stakeholders, nurseries and regulatory agencies to implement best management practices for healthy vineyards.

The Clean Plant Center Northwest sells vines found free of  grapevine”redleaf” (or red blotch) disease and 29 other viruses. Redleaf causes red coloration of leaves and a reduced yield in fruit harvest.
The Clean Plant Center Northwest sells vines that are tested and found free of grapevine”redleaf” (or red blotch) disease and 29 other viruses. Redleaf causes red coloration of leaves and a reduced yield in fruit harvest.

Until 2013, grapevine redleaf (red blotch) disease in Washington vineyards was mistaken for grapevine leafroll disease. Similarities in the symptoms—a red discoloration of the leaves and reduced fruit yields at harvest—make it difficult to differentiate the two pathogens. When checking for viruses in symptomatic vines, however, Rayapati discovered that some of these vines tested negative for grapevine leafroll disease and developed a detection method for redleaf disease.

Identifying pathogens and finding solutions maintain the health, quality and productivity of Washington’s grape and wine industry, but it also comes with a considerable price tag. The alternative, however, is more costly in the long run.

If a disease spreads from illegally imported vines, not only can the grower be fined, but they may have to rip out the whole block of vines, said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, a group that has been instrumental in educating growers about the benefits of using clean plants and the disadvantages of risking it.

Sustaining awareness

The National Clean Plant Network has been federally funded since 2009, which is one reason the Clean Plant Center foundation block advisory group is a tri-state effort, according to Mike Means, group chair and vineyard manager at Chateau Ste. Michelle, the largest wine producer in Washington. Including Oregon and Idaho in Washington’s clean plant efforts supports the health of the region and encourages those states to add to the federal funding that sustains the program.

In 2011, the Washington Wine Industry Foundation surveyed the grower community to measure their awareness of clean plants and understanding of disease. Results showed the need to educate the growers. Since then, WSU and various grape-growing and wine industry associations have made a concerted effort to share information through workshops, publications in both English and Spanish, and clean plant field trips that include tastings comparing grapes from healthy and diseased vines.

Order clean vines early for best selection

Grape_sticksGrowers should plan to order clean vines more than one year in advance whether they are purchasing from the Clean Plant Center or a certified nursery. The center gives priority to orders placed before December 15 from customers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, but increasingly Ballard receives requests from outside the Northwest.

Demand has grown to the point where one of Ballard’s last projects is creating a tissue-culture-generated plantlet, or young plant, of patented table grape vines from the University of Arkansas. Plantlet material is typically created in-house to clean up a plant and establish material for the Clean Plant Center foundation vineyard. However, this material will be sold to a vineyard in South Africa and needs to remain in plantlet form to meet that country’s quarantine requirements.

Whether it’s propagating clean planting material for growers in the Northwest or somewhere else in the world, Ballard has enjoyed providing a service to the industry as a whole.

“WSU has given me the opportunity to do that with assistance and guidance where needed,” he recalled. “Along with the successful raising of my kids and a full-term marriage, those three things are what I consider the major accomplishments in my life.”

- Erika Holmes

How many bubbles are needed in bubbly?

Fizzy bubbles are the big draw for those who love sparkling wine, but can they tell the difference between varying carbonation levels? And do they have preferences as to how much carbonation should be in their wine?

That’s what Washington State University School of Food Science graduate student Kenny McMahon is looking at as part of his Ph.D. dissertation with advisor Carolyn Ross.

Kenny McMahon puts used glasses into bins during a panel taste test for his study. (Photos courtesy of Kenny McMahon, WSU)
Kenny McMahon puts used glasses into bins during a panel taste test for his study. (Photos courtesy of Kenny McMahon, WSU)

Findings from his first study “showed that consumers like the lower carbonation levels but have a greater preference for the higher carbonated wines,” said McMahon, who presented his data at the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers annual conference last week.

A second study is being conducted.

Detection and preference

For the first study, he convened two panels, one with trained wine tasters and one with typical wine consumers.

McMahon made his own sparkling wines – with differing carbonation levels – in a commercial Washington winery. The carbonation range was 0-7.5 grams of carbon dioxide per liter.

The trained panel was studied regarding attributes related to carbonation. Panelists were asked to consider the perception of bite/burn, carbonation/bubble-pain, foaminess, numbing, prickly/pressure and tingliness, as well as various aromas, flavors and basic tastes.

McMahon said the trained panel started to pick up those various attributes at lower carbonation levels than the typical consumers, but most participants noted the carbonation by about 2 grams per liter.

The consumer panel was studied to see if participants noticed the differing levels of carbonation and what amount they preferred.

McMahon also asked both panels to think about the carbonation in each sip and how it impacted the sensation in their mouths.

“We were looking to see at what point people noticed the carbonation-related attributes and what wine they liked the most,” he said.

Kenny McMahon grabs wine glasses to serve to panel members as part of his research on sparkling wines. (Photo courtesy Kenny McMahon, WSU)
Kenny McMahon grabs wine glasses to serve to panel members as part of his research on sparkling wines.

Various grapes, carbonation levels

Sparkling wine is any wine containing carbonation, which gives rise to bubbles. The wine can be made using a variety of grapes, such as chardonnay or pinot noir.

Some sparkling wines, such as Portugal’s vinho verde, benefit from lower carbonation levels, but there haven’t been many studies on the subject.

Traditional producers keep a steady 9-11 grams per liter because that’s the way champagne was originally made. A proportion of U.S. producers of sparkling wine follow that tradition. But only wine made in the Champagne region of France can be labeled with the term “champagne.”

- Scott Weybright

Wine Science Center nearly complete

Members of the viticulture and enology program at Washington State University are packing to move into their new digs on the Tri-Cities campus this spring.

Construction of the $23-million Wine Science Center has reached substantial completion, and Lydig Construction is working through the “punch list” to finish the 39,300-square-foot, LEED Silver-certified research and teaching facility.

The construction has progressed to the point that the Richland City Council voted this month to disband the development authority whose board members oversaw Wine Science Center construction and managed the finances. That development authority has successfully completed its mission and is turning over $98,000 of unused funds to the WSU Foundation.

That money will go into the Wine Science Center construction fund, which will pay for remaining unfinished rooms as well as equipment purchases. Rooms yet to be finished are a teaching laboratory and three plant growth chambers.

The growth chambers will provide important research capacity, allowing scientists to study grapevines under a wide range of temperatures and light and irrigation levels. This research will provide the Washington wine industry with better management tools for their vineyards, to support premium grape production, preserve resources, and prepare for climate change.

A grand opening for the Wine Science Center is planned for early June, but program director Thomas Henick-Kling recently toured the facility with Tri-Cities’ KEPR Action News. For a sneak peek at the facility, check out reporter Davis Wahlman’s video report “WSU’s Wine Science Center is state of the art.”


- Erika Holmes

Winery owner offers online info session

Learn about wine tasting, wine etiquette and how to pair food and wine in a free online presentation by Patrick Merry, owner of Merry Cellars Winery.
Preview “Food from the Heart with Merry Cellars Winery,” an online presentation offered March 3 at 6 p.m. through WSU’s Digital Academy.

Learn about wine tasting, wine etiquette and how to pair food and wine in a free online presentation by Patrick Merry, owner of Merry Cellars Winery. Merry will also provide an inside look at the process of wine production.

Merry launched Merry Cellars Winery in 2004 with an inaugural vintage of 400 cases, and now produces 5,000 cases annually.

This presentation is 6 p.m. March 3. It is offered through WSU’s Digital Academy, part of the Global Connections program that brings extracurricular events to WSU Global Campus students. The session lasts about 45 minutes, and includes time for attendees to ask questions. All participants present in the chat area will be entered into a drawing for a $100 Merry Cellars gift certificate.

Please register here.

Find us on Facebook to win “The Crimson Spoon”

"The Crimson Spoon: Plating Region Cuisine on the Palouse" by WSU Executive Chef Jamie Callison.
“The Crimson Spoon: Plating Regional Cuisine on the Palouse” by WSU Executive Chef Jamie Callison.

“Like” the Washington State University Viticulture & Enology Program on Facebook for program and wine industry updates!

Everyone who likes our post about “The Crimson Spoon: Plating Regional Cuisine on the Palouse” between February 18 and March 17, 2015, will be entered to win a copy. This 200-page, photo-illustrated, hardback cookbook features WSU Executive Chef Jamie Callison’s gourmet dishes and recipes.

The winner of the cookbook will be announced on March 18 in the “Voice of the Vine” and on the WSU Viticulture & Enology Program Facebook page.

Get your “like” on, and good luck!

Voice of the Vine
Each issue of Voice of the Vine brings you stories about viticulture and enology and WSU researchers, students, and alumni working in Washington’s world-class wine industry. Subscribe here.

Green Times
If you are interested in WSU research and education about organic agriculture and sustainable food systems, check out Green TimesSubscribe here.

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Welcome to the mother block: Nursery is main source for clean vines

Inland Desert Nursery, co-owned by brothers Kevin and Jerry and their father, Tom, cultivates 100 acres of clean grapevines known as “mother blocks” with material sourced from Washington State University’s Clean Plant Center foundation vineyard. (Photo courtesy of Inland Desert Nursery.)
Inland Desert Nursery, co-owned by brothers Kevin and Jerry Judkins and their father, Tom, cultivates 100 acres of clean grapevines known as “mother blocks” with material sourced from Washington State University’s Clean Plant Center foundation vineyard. (Photo courtesy of Inland Desert Nursery.)

The Judkins family has been in the business of clean grapevines for more than 40 years.

Today, their Inland Desert Nursery, co-owned by brothers Kevin and Jerry and their father, Tom, cultivates 100 acres of clean grapevines known as “mother blocks” with material sourced from the Washington State University Clean Plant Center foundation vineyard. These mother blocks are where 75 percent of the clean grapevines planted in Washington come from.

Mother blocks are visually inspected multiple times during a growing season by the Washington Department of Agriculture to confirm their disease-free status, according to Aaron Paul, an environmental specialist in the WSDA plant services program in Pasco. Paul says Washington’s clean plant program and quarantines on imported vines help maintain freedom from viruses and limit the distribution of grape phylloxera within the state, allowing growers to plant certified grapevines directly into the vineyard without the use of grafted rootstocks.

“WSDA is constantly on the lookout at wholesale and retail plant outlets for certification and quarantine compliance,” Paul said. “Plants that are out of compliance with state quarantines are destroyed or returned to their state of origin.”

Federal funding through the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program pays for testing of all certified mother blocks in the state, a cost that would have been too great a burden for private vineyard owners.

Chateau Ste. Michelle planted a certified mother block in one of their vineyards with materials from the Clean Plant Center foundation vineyard. They have expanded that first mother block to have more stock available. Any plants not used in their own vineyards are consigned to Inland Desert Nursery.

“Kevin Judkins and Inland Desert have done a great job developing mother blocks and getting [clean material] out to the growers,” says Mike Means, vineyard manager at Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Clean Plant Center foundation block advisory group chairman. “We don’t always have enough to go around, but what we have is quality.”

This year will mark Inland Desert Nursery’s biggest year to date for grapevine sales. They will deliver more than 3,000,000 dormant vines and 600,000 green-grown vines.

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Featured Research

By Rebecca Phillips

Bad news in the media got you down? News consumers have only themselves to blame, says new research showing that it’s actually buying habits that drive negative press.

The research looks at the negative news phenomenon through the prism of economic science. And while previous studies have focused on the supply side by examining media output, this analysis is among the first to investigate a negative news bias from the consumer or demand side. MORE

By Sylvia Kantor

Pullman, Wash. – You generally don’t find livestock among the hills of the Palouse region of eastern Washington where grain is grown. But wheat farmers Eric and Sheryl Zakarison are changing that – and making a profit.

On 100 of their 1,300 family owned acres, they are experimenting with a rather unconventional scheme for the region – growing wheat, peas, perennial grasses like alfalfa and sheep in a tightly integrated system. MORE



By Scott Weybright

The watermelon crop has declined dramatically in Washington because of disease. But Washington State University researchers are developing a solution that involves grafting watermelon plants onto squash and other vine plant rootstocks.

“We’ve lost about a third of our state’s watermelon production over the last 10 years because of Verticillium wilt,” said Carol Miles, a professor of vegetable horticulture at the WSU Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. “Growers have switched to other crops that are less susceptible.” MORE

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By Sylvia Kantor

Gender and personality matter in how people cope with physical and mental illness, according to a paper by a Washington State University scientist and colleagues at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

Men are less affected by a single-symptom illness than women, but are more affected when more than one symptom is present. The number of symptoms doesn’t change how women are affected, according to Robert Rosenman, WSU professor in the Department of Economic Sciences. MORE


Conservation buffers please the eye, protect the landscape, says WSU researcher

By Seth Truscott

PULLMAN, Wash. – Researchers know that adding natural buffers to the farm landscape can stop soil from vanishing. Now a scientist at Washington State University has found that more buffers are better, both for pleasing the eye and slowing erosion.
Linda Klein, a recent doctoral graduate in WSU’s School of the Environment, worked with six other researchers at the university, plus one at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Moscow (Idaho) Forestry Sciences Laboratory, to explore the role that buffers – strips or clumps of shrubs, trees and natural vegetation – play in the landscape and in people’s visual preferences.
Klein surveyed Whitman County residents to see if conservation features made for more scenic fields and valleys. She found that Palouse residents prefer more nature with their wheat fields.MORE


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MudflatImpact: Burrowing Shrimp and Invasive Eelgrass

Shellfish production in Washington is a $60 million a year industry. Several major pests plague this industry, resulting in major crop loss. One of the most important pests is subterranean burrowing shrimp. These shrimp bioturbate (stir up) the sediment, causing the oysters to sink and die. For the past 60 years the industry has been using the insecticide Sevin to control this pest, but due to lawsuits its use was phased out in 2012. Without alternative control for shrimp, tens of millions of dollars in annual crop revenue will be lost and the industry will quickly lose its economic viability in southwestern Washington.

PoultryFarmImpact: The National Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified agriculture as the leading contributor of pollutants to the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. These reports often do not separate animal agriculture from other agricultural enterprises, but they do note that pathogens, nutrients, and oxygen-depleting substances associated with manure are three of the top five pollutants. Some emerging issues related to manure management include: endocrine disruptors (hormones), pharmaceuticals (antimicrobials), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Adopting farm practices that minimize the environmental impact is important for food safety.

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Biosolids are the solids produced during municipal wastewater treatment. Composts are made from a variety of organic materials, including both urban and agriculture sources such as yard trimmings, biosolids, storm debris, food waste or manure, and food processing residues. While these materials have traditionally been viewed as waste, they can play a valuable role as soil amendments in urban and agricultural settings. They provide nutrients and organic matter and they sequester carbon, thereby conserving resources, restoring soils, and combating climate change.

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Alumni & Friends

The WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) Office of Alumni & Friends is a service unit dedicated to promoting philanthropic support for the college’s research, teaching, and extension programs.

CAHNRS seeks $190 million through the Campaign for WSU. This unprecedented fundraising goal is managed through the CAHNRS Office of Alumni and Friends. If you would like to learn more about the CAHNRS’s fundraising priorities, please explore our website or meet the team.

Funding Priorities

Through the Campaign for Washington State University, CAHNRS and WSU Extension will play a major role in defining answers to complex issues through truly big ideas—feeding the world, powering the planet, and ensuring the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. See below to learn more about how we are addressing these issues in our strategic and on-going  initiatives and development of world-class students.

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Faculty & Staff

Important Dates and Deadlines

March 26, 2015
  • CAHNRS Honors – SEL Event Center
March 26-27, 2015
  • Spring NBOA – Ensminger

April 6, 2015

  • Signed Faculty and AP Annual Reviews
September 10, 2015
  • Fall Festival


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