Practical Winery
58-D Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903-2054
phone:415/479-5819 · fax:415/492-9325

May/June 2003

SEEKING Partnerships
Broad cooperative effort helps AVF move research forward




BY Tina Vierra

Today’s American Vineyard Foundation (AVF) faces challenges of fundraising, information gathering, funds disbursement, and research-oversight that can only be solved by cooperative means, according to executive director Patrick Gleeson.

The AVF was originally created in 1978 to be a fundraising arm for the American Society for Enology & Viticulture, which by its non-profit charter could not actively raise funds. As a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, AVF can actively raise funds for viticulture and enology research.

However, the AVF has since become far more than a fundraising organization. Working in tandem with groups that have a similar purpose, AVF raises research funds; compiles information on top industry concerns through surveys and other means; solicits, reviews, and funds research grants; coordinates research efforts with industry needs; and helps researchers deliver results to the industry.

Keeping track of money and research
Gleeson became executive director in 1995, and he enjoys a unique role as the man-in-the-middle of all these efforts. He’s head coach, committee chair, guest speaker, surveyor, fundraising cheerleader, and the king of spreadsheets.

How much funding went to Pierce’s disease and glassy-winged sharpshooter research in the last several years? Want a summary of all funds disbursed — to which research projects — in 2002/2003? Gleeson has a spreadsheet for everything.

Visit the AVF website — it has many spreadsheet-based charts detailing where the grape and wine industry believes research money should be spent, where it’s gone in the past, and where it’s going in the near future.

AVF runs on voluntary contributions from the wine and wine grape industry, and it’s board of directors has lofty goals. “The AVF board is targeting $2million in annual contributions,” says Gleeson. “If we break $2million, we will set our sights on $2.5.

“Ideally, we would like to build up our endowment balance, so the interest will support the industry’s annual research needs. The account balance is $380,000, and we have a goal of $10million for the endowment fund. We have our work cut out for us.” Primary fundraising time for AVF is the spring of each year, between January and April, but contributions are welcome anytime.

Contributions are raised mainly by direct mail, primarily targeting growers and vintners who work cooperatively to raise funds for research. Growers can authorize vintners to deduct $1 per $1,000 in crop value from grower payments and grower deductions are matched by the vintners.

Since donations are voluntary, support can fluctuate from year to year, making it difficult for AVF to anticipate the next year’s resources. In 2002, approximately 29% of growers (1,172 out of an estimated 4,000) and 13% of vintners (104 out of 800 in California) contributed funds to AVF.

The bulk of the largest wine/grape companies support the AVF, but the AVF would like to increase the percentage of contributors from all sources. Building of the endowment fund is vital to stretching AVF resources in the future.

Funding research projects
A template for the annual survey of industry concerns was one of the first things Gleeson developed. “I’ve been with AVF for eight years, and in the early years, I was getting lambasted by researchers who said, ‘You’re not telling us what the industry’s top priorities are.’ They were getting turned down for research proposals on which they spent a lot of time and effort. They wanted to know, ‘How can we find the target? How can we submit proposals for research grants that will be viable and accepted?’ At the same time, vintners and growers appreciated the opportunity to voice their concerns. So the survey process was needed.”

As a result, researchers’ proposals more accurately address grower/vintner needs and concerns. Gleeson can show researchers proposing projects rated near the bottom of the survey’s industry priorities that their topic doesn’t appear to meet industry needs. He can then offer guidance on an alternate proposal or on revising the current one. “A project may be good science, and we appreciate that, but it’s got to be aimed at an industry need.”

Each of these concerns is being addressed by at least one, and often more, research projects currently in progress and funded by the AVF. (See Table II for top regional concerns.) In 2002, however, only 33 of 102 proposed research projects received funding, divided between 20 for viticulture and 13 for winemaking.

With the survey tool in hand, Gleeson next addressed the best uses of the money AVF would raise. He looked to other programs and sources within California, and began building partnerships with related organizations to combine funds and conjoin similar research for the benefit of all.

As a result, Gleeson is co-director of the California Competitive Grant program with UC Davis’s Dr. Robert Webster and is an ex-officio member of the Viticulture Consortium Program. Working cooperatively with these state and federal funding agencies, such as the Rootstock Improvement Commission, the CA Raisin Board, the Table Grape Commission, and others, the AVF has been able to pool resources for common high-priority programs.

Stretching research dollars
Thanks to these partnerships, AVF’s accessible funds rose from $1.4 million to $2.4 million in 2002. “We’re focusing on the common, high-priority concerns for the wine and grape industry — making sure we are maximizing our investment,” reports Gleeson.

Current research on Pierce’s disease and GWSS is a prime example. AVF is managing the research evaluation process for the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Pierce’s disease/glassy-winged sharpshooter board.

In addition, the AVF works closely with the CDFA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, California Competitive Grant Program for Research in Viticulture and Enology, University of California (UC), U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Viticulture Consortium. This effort has been very rewarding and productive. Eighty-three Pierce’s disease and GWSS studies (totaling $14.8 million), large and small, have been realized by this huge cooperative effort over the past several years.

Does Gleeson ever feel bogged down in committees? “Yes, but the payoff has been incredible. Between all of the agencies, we get to that needed budget amount. It allows us to go further down the project list with a bigger pot of money, and as long as we all agree that a project is good science, and that it’s meeting the needs of all those agencies, then we’ll work together on it.”

Working with top scientists
AVF has also looked outside California for more research partners. In 1996, a group called AVERN (American Viticulture and Enology Research Network) was formed to evaluate national grower/vintner research needs and concerns. The group brought together academics, cooperative extension personnel, and grape/wine industry members to gather data. Gleeson became technical committee chairman and was put in charge of the survey process to determine top industry concerns.

From contacts established during AVERN work and elsewhere, Gleeson has built ties between AVF and researchers in Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, New York, and Florida. He won’t stop there.

AVF looks for partners in all major winegrowing regions. “We’ll get to the northwest, and east coast,” states Gleeson.

“There are winegrapes grown in every state now. Will we look to fund a trellising research trial in the midwest? No, not yet anyway. That project would have an impact on too narrow an area that would most likely not be applicable to California growers. But if the scientists are studying powdery mildew or Eutypa — a common, high-priority concern across the U.S., and it is a well-designed project and is the best science — yes.

“The key to identifying research expertise and funding partnerships outside of California is communication. There will always be regional differences for research, and we will not be able to agree on all issues. That said, as long as we agree and identify the common high priorities related to regional specific issues (across the U.S. and internationally), we can move forward with the matching funds process and discussion. The driving force in this process is working with the top scientists who provide California vintners and growers with answers to pressing questions. Research needs to be effective, efficient, and relevant.”

Various committees currently field about 125 research proposals. Gleeson expects the numbers to grow. AVF wants to review project proposals from Cornell, Washington state, Oregon, and anywhere else top enology and viticulture researchers and interested funding agencies are available.

In order for other states to determine what the enology and viticulture concerns were in their backyards, Gleeson provided his survey template, and told them to revise it for their own needs with input from researchers, industry members, and local media.

“I told the states, ‘When you submit a survey and you get the feedback, researchers won’t be confused. They’re in the loop then, they’re not surprised by the concerns that growers and vintners want research on. It’s a communication tool, a two-way street.’"

Going beyond the U.S.
In 2003, AVF announced its intention to build partnerships even farther a field — in Australia. “We looked at some of the exciting stuff they’re doing and approached them about research partnerships,” reports Gleeson. “They’re progressive and aggressive in how they address their research.”

Australians have a different view of intellectual property. Fiercely national, they want research to benefit their industry specifically, if not exclusively.

Gleeson swapped “Top Concerns” lists with the Australians, and they compared notes. Then both sides signed non-disclosure agreements and cautiously passed over some of their research proposals to each other. Anonymity is key — no one knows who the research teams are, and both sides review the proposals with no politics, but with an eye to good science, matching funds, and coordinating research programs. Not surprisingly, they found some matches.

“Look, Objective A in your proposal links nicely with Objective B in our proposal. Let’s get those two groups to talk and work together on this objective.” Gleeson says this was very much what exchanges with the Australians were like. “At that point, AVF and the Australian funding agencies would step back and let researchers take over, cooperate, collaborate. From my perspective, our job is to initiate conversation between research groups. The science discussion and approach are the responsibility of scientists, not AVF.”

An example of this cooperative effort is research on Eutypa. There is one cooperative research effort ongoing through the process described above with Dr. Russell Molyneux, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, and Dr. Eileen Scott, Cooperative Research Center for Viticulture and University of Adelaide (Waite Campus). The cooperative effort is focused on: Eutypa Dieback — development of early diagnostic techniques.

“In the future, we are hopeful that a cultural trial on Eutypa looking at control through wound applications can be developed,” explains Gleeson. “Ideally, both groups would use identical protocols in California and Australia. The result would be a continual study on a lead-follow basis, because the Australian growing season will follow the Californian season.” Then there are two data sets every 12 months intead of just one.

“In addition to coordinating research efforts, we need to coordinate funding efforts. This has to be a funding partnership with the Australians — it cannot be a one-way street,” adds Gleeson.

Whatever it takes to meet industry needs
Current AVF funding is 99% from California, so board members are careful to ensure that the research it funds meets the needs of California vintners and growers first and is the best science.

“We have some of the top scientists in the world here in California, and we need to continue to fund those programs,” states Gleeson. “At the same time we are charged with looking at all funding options. If the science exists at Cornell, and it’s the best science, we should fund that project. If it meets our needs, and it’s in British Columbia or Washington or Australia — AVF does not care where a problem gets solved. We just want it solved. That’s a change in mindset.”

PWV to publish AVF research
AVF’s charter is to fund research and to disseminate finished research work to the industry or the public at large. The AVF-board and Patrick Gleeson want to improve their outreach efforts. To that end, AVF has launched a new cooperative effort with PWV.

“For the most part, when vintners and growers want to know the results of the research, they don’t look to AVF,” says Gleeson. “Although we fund the work, they look to AJEV, the Grape Grower, PWV, and the Australian journals. Some of the research just isn’t getting out there. We have funded some research for up to 12 years and the results aren’t yet published. That needs to change.”

Researchers explain that to stop working in the fields in order to write and publish is disruptive to the research cycle. They are not earning a living if their grant funds are cut off for one year because they miss a grant cycle in order to publish. Gleeson can’t argue with these points, but nevertheless AVF needs to get the information into the hands of vintners and growers.

An AVF process, now in place, requires that all researchers must write up and publish their results within five years of completing a study. Researchers need to be accountable for delivering the information to the industry. Continued funding is in jeopardy if the information is sitting on a computer and unpublished.

In cooperation with the AVF, Practical Winery & Vineyard is taking on the role of industry outlet for as much AVF-funded research as it can publish. Gleeson and publisher Don Neel hope to work with researchers to bring results to print as quickly as possible when research is completed, getting information to vintners and growers promptly while allowing researchers to proceed with their work.

Coming up in 2003 in PWV, look for research results from James Wolpert and Nick Dokoozlian, among others.