The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has awarded $3.8 million to researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech to lead a multi-state effort to further improve grape and wine quality in the eastern United States.

According to Tony Wolf, professor of viticulture and project director, the five-year project seeks to create, refine, and encourage industry adoption of grape and wine production practices that integrate research-based recommendations with key market drivers to achieve a robust and sustainable grape and wine industry in the region.

“In order to increase wine sales in the eastern United States, including Virginia, wine grapes and wines must be of consistently high quality, and they must be produced on a cost-competitive basis,” said Wolf.

Virginia currently ranks fifth nationally in wine grape production, and its grape and wine industry has a total economic impact of more than $362 million per year. In addition to strengthening rural communities through employment and spin-off benefits to the service sector, the state’s vineyards and 180 wineries attract tourism and help preserve green space.

Wolf, who is also the director of Virginia Tech’s Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester, Va., explained that the underlying research addresses unique challenges of quality grape and wine production in the East, including unpredictable but often excessive rains during the growing season, frost and winter injury problems, unique grape varieties, and the high costs of grape production that result from the relatively small scale of most Eastern vineyards. The research also explores consumer buying preferences and perceptions about regional wines relative to other domestic and foreign brands.