With its own small-scale vineyard underway, Southern Oregon University’s Center for Sustainability (CFS) wants to nudge Oregon’s growing viticulture industry towards organic growing techniques.

Although the vineyard is barren ground right now, CFS will install trellises and begin planting grapes within the next month. Waiting in cold storage at the CFS site are 300 grape plants that will take up half an acre of the farm’s 3.5-acre plot on Walker Avenue. From its field at the backside of the CFS, the vineyard will face larger private vineyards on the rolling hillsides across the valley. 

In addition to providing the SOU community with grapes to be consumed, the new vineyard will be a resource for students to research and experiment with different methods for growing organic grapes in the region. 

“It’s very hard to grow grapes organically. At the CFS we have the luxury of being able to experiment, whereas a large vineyard that needs to turn a profit on their production won’t always have that luxury,” said Vincent Smith, an SOU professor who oversees research at the CFS. 

Grapes are susceptible to a number of diseases and pests that are difficult to control without the use of chemicals. Oregon grapes must be protected from mites and thrips, and diseases like powdery mildew and botrytis bunch. The CFS will experiment with a series of cultural control methods that will protect their plants without the use of pesticides. 

Smith considers the vineyard a micro-scale experiment for wine growers in the larger community. The CFS hopes to share data collected from student research with local farmers to encourage more sustainable growing practices and discourage nonorganic spraying. 

Possible experiments include looking at ways to control fungi and pests organically, using different types of cultural practices, spreading grapes wider and trellising plants differently. 

The vineyard is made possible through grant funding from the Erath Family Foundation, a Portland-based foundation dedicated to creating opportunities in the wine industry by helping to educate, promote and support research in viticulture and wine production. 

This donation was fostered by CFS Administrator and SOU professor Greg Jones, who sits on the Erath foundation board. Jones is considered SOU’s residential viticulture expert and has been doing research in the viticulture industry for 18 years. 

“This was about supporting the development of something we thought was an educational tool here at SOU,” Jones said. 

Additional support comes from the California-based Duarte Nursery, which donated most of the grape plants for the CFS vineyard. As the largest permanent crops nursery in the U.S., Duarte also owns vineyards and conducts experiments on technologies for rapid vine establishment and fruit production. 

The CFS vineyard will grow four types of table grapes that will be distributed through community supported agriculture subscriptions, and four types of wine grapes that include sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and tempranillo.

Southern Oregon University student Angelica Crimmins is an intern with the Ashland Daily Tidings.