Growing grape knowledge

Miranda Ulmer inspects grapes in the vines at the Colorado State University Extension Service at 3070 B 1/2 Road. Ulmer joined the station as a viticulture specialist and has been in the valley since mid-July.

Colorado State University has added a new position based out of its Orchard Mesa Research Station to help disseminate information about its viticulture research to Colorado growers and provide general educational resources.

The Viticulture Extension Specialist position is funded by the Colorado Association of Viticulture and Enology (CAVE) and the Colorado Wine Board for 21 months. Miranda Ulmer, the first person to hold the position, has been working in Grand Junction since mid-July.

"Basically I'm here to help educate the growers and the end goal is to improve the quality of Colorado grapes," Ulmer said. "The first thing they wanted me to do is conduct a survey. The goal was to address the educational needs of the industry and also to determine the industry's optimism."

The results of that survey will guide how the program evolves going forward, Ulmer said. It asked questions about everything from the variety of grapes being grown to how they'd like to receive educational material. In addition to the survey, Ulmer said she has talked to local wineries about their needs and concerns.

"The main issues that people are dealing with are winter cold damage, irrigation and then phylloxera — it's a bug that attacks the roots," Ulmer said. "It's pretty new to Colorado. Fields that have phylloxera deteriorate, not super quickly, but eventually they will."

One of the main reasons the new position was created was to provide a contact who could relay information on viticulture research being done in Orchard Mesa by CSU for local vineyards.

"We have a researcher, (viticulture professor) Horst Caspari, who is in this same building," Ulmer said. "We have grapes outside. He does rootstock trials, cover crop trials. My job is to help get that information out and help make it relevant to the people who actually need it."

Garrett Portra, owner of Carlson Vineyards, said he consulted with Caspari before purchasing his winery and that local grape growers use information from the CSU Extension to improve their operations.

Having someone dedicated to providing that information will have a beneficial effect on Colorado's wineries, Portra said.

"I think, broader picture, it is going to be super helpful to our entire industry," Portra said.

Ulmer is new to Colorado and said she is working to familiarize herself with the wine industry in the state. She got her graduate degree at Oregon State University, where part of her studies involved working at commercial vineyards. While the wetter climate and lower elevations make the industry in Oregon different, Ulmer said she hoped she could apply her knowledge, especially about crop yield, to Colorado.

"When the vines are dormant in January, I would dissect these little tiny buds under a microscope and you can count inflorescence primordia — that's just the potential fruitfulness or the potential number of clusters of grapes," Ulmer said. "Some people use it as a way to predict yield. You can count and say this bud would have given rise to this many clusters and then we can multiply that by how many clusters and vines and all that."

While the new position is focused on providing more information to Colorado's wine producers, Ulmer said one of the main hurdles the industry is facing is educating the public about Colorado wine.

"When you think of wine tasting or buying a bottle of wine, Colorado is not usually up there on your list of places to go," Ulmer said.

"Colorado is kind of known as a beer state and skiing state. We want it to be known as a beer and skiing and wine state," she said.

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