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Project reveals opportunities for Oklahoma wine industry

The Oklahoma wine industry has grown tremendously during the last several years, and now the Oklahoma Vineyard Quality Project is enhancing the ability of state grape growers and winemakers to strengthen their operations further.

By Mandy Gross, FAPC Communications Services Manager

(Stillwater, Okla. – July 7, 2015) The Oklahoma wine industry has grown tremendously during the last several years, and now the Oklahoma Vineyard Quality Project is enhancing the ability of state grape growers and winemakers to strengthen their operations further.

“The old saying goes, ‘Great wine is made in the vineyard,’ and it’s true,” said William McGlynn, horticultural products processing specialist for Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center. “Only high-quality fruit can make a high-quality wine and the information gleaned from this project will better equip Oklahoma grape growers to produce the highest quality fruit possible."

The project, funded by the Oklahoma Specialty Crops Block Grant program through the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, aimed to identify improvements needed in Oklahoma vineyards as well as pathways to implement them through educational programs. More specifically, the program sought to classify geographically the grape cultivars grown throughout Oklahoma’s eco-regions, provide information on growing high-quality grapes that can be made into high-quality juices or wines, and offer information to include in educational and extension programs.

The four primary elements that promote high fruit quality in the vineyard are selecting the proper cultivar, having a suitable environment for growing grapes, providing dedicated and observant management and choosing a proper site for the crop, said Eric Stafne, viticulture consultant and associate extension and research professor at Mississippi State University.

“These four elements can be used in combination to enhance fruit quality throughout Oklahoma,” Stafne said.

According to a final report written by Stafne, the primary concern of Oklahoma’s wine industry is the long-term sustainability of vineyards throughout the state. Lack of attentive management, poor pruning practices, lack of adequate pest control, poorly balanced vines and overall poor site selection are examples of issues that can lead to problems in producing high-quality fruit.

Stafne stated many of these problems can be improved over time and offered recommendations that can lead to better vineyard quality.

For example, wineries should further integrate hybrids into their plans if vineyards are to be more sustainable over time. Stafne suggested 3-4 tons per acre should be the minimum for production of vinifera, and hybrids should range from 4-8 tons per acre to be economically viable.

Soils in Oklahoma may limit productivity due to low organic matter, high Boron, heavy clay textures, salinity and other features. Also, water is a critical element in the vineyard. It is recommended to optimize irrigation application to reduce stress during all seasons to improve vine health.

Stafne also recommended performing a soil test prior to planting grapes and then every 2-3 years after planting. Not all sites are good locations for grape production.

Furthermore, Stafne emphasized the importance of educational programs on plant and soil nutrition, irrigation and water allocation, pest management, pruning practices and canopy management.

“I encourage growers to incorporate the Oklahoma Vineyard Workbook into practice,” he said. “Workshops that explain the book and allocate time for completing the ratings are necessary for better participation.”

Oklahoma is a difficult place to grow grapes, but the state’s grape growers and winemakers are committed to producing high-quality fruit juices and wines proudly made using Oklahoma-grown grapes.

FAPC, a part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop, and deliver technical and business information that will stimulate and support the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.

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Oklahoma State University is a modern land-grant system of interdisciplinary programs that prepares students for success. OSU is America’s Brightest Orange. Through leadership and service, OSU is preparing students for a bright future and building a brighter world for all. As Oklahoma’s only university with a statewide presence, OSU improves the lives of people in Oklahoma, the nation and the world through integrated, high-quality teaching, research and outreach. OSU has more than 36,000 students across its five-campus system and more than 24,000 on its combined Stillwater and Tulsa campuses, with students from all 50 states and around 120 nations. Established in 1890, OSU has graduated more than 245,000 students to serve Oklahoma, the nation and the world.