NASA research provides out-of-this-world benefit for grape growers

L_102910-cals-wineVirginia’s wine grape industry has really taken off over the past 20 years. Now NASA is helping the state’s grape growers find new ways to meet the growing demand for wine grapes and vineyards.

The agency is using satellite mapping techniques to analyze the best land for planting future vineyards.

“NASA teamed up for this project with the state agriculture department and the Virginia Wine Board,” said Todd Haymore, Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry. “Grape growers will combine that location data with information about the soil, slope of the land, angle of the sun, frost dates and so on to make a determination about where to plant new vineyards.”

The state’s wine industry has grown into a $750 million-a-year business. State law requires a minimum of 75 percent Virginia fruit be used to label a bottle as Virginia wine, and demand for that fruit continues to grow.

“Just to keep up with the demand, we are seeing many wineries in Virginia using juice from other wine grape-growing states like New York,” said Alexander Morgan, general manager at James River Winery. “This study will help us locate the best place to continue to plant and other places to start production for wine grapes in Virginia. It can be a real game changer for the entire industry in the state.”

Setting up a vineyard can cost up to $16,000 an acre, in addition to the cost of purchasing the land.

The satellite mapping project was conducted from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton. It’s one of several NASA programs that could help Virginia farmers, including a study aimed at improving the efficiency of agricultural water use.

Virginia is ranked fifth nationwide for number of wineries and is the nation’s fifth-largest wine grape producer. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported that wine grape production grew by 17 percent in 2014, thanks to an increase in grape-bearing acres and an improved growing season.

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