Source: Cornell University

On April 22, 1909, state lawmakers granted $10,000 to the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) for the "extended study of the conditions attending grape growing" in the Lake Erie region in response to producer concerns about declining yields. A century later, the resulting Vineyard Research Laboratory in Fredonia claims a rich history of viticulture advancements that have benefited the grape industry both locally and internationally.

The facility has been home to entomologists, plant pathologists, horticulturalists, and viticulturists from Cornell, Pennsylvania State University, and the USDA in the years since horticulturalist Fred Gladwin became its first director. They've conducted innovative research and extension in grape breeding, pest control, vineyard management, fertilizer application, and harvesting.

The Vineyard Research Laboratory will soon mark another milestone in its history when it relocates to nearby Portland, N.Y. Work crews expect to complete construction on the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory by early summer. The 50-acre facility, funded by $5.4 million in state appropriations in 2006, promises to be a large grape research farm with state-of-the-art equipment for expanded field research and studies on wine and juice quality. It will also provide additional room for research and extension staff and visiting scientists and serve as a central meeting space for grower workshops.

"Cornell, USDA and Penn State scientists at the Fredonia lab have contributed significantly to the past success and future growth of the grape and wine industries of the Lake Erie grape belt and beyond," said Tom Burr, associate dean of Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and NYSAES director. "We owe thanks to all those who contributed to planning and vision of the new facility, which will facilitate enhanced opportunities for research, extension, and economic growth to the region."

Burr acknowledged the support of State Senator Catharine Young and Assemblyman William Parment in securing funds for the Portland facility. "Without their backing, this project would not have happened," he added. "They have gone above and beyond to make this a facility everyone can be proud of."

Cornell will bring 100 years of grape research to the new facility from the Fredonia lab, the site of numerous experiments overseen by renowned grape researchers. Nelson Shaulis, a pioneering viticulturist, led a team of lab assistants and local growers in the 1960s to create the Geneva Double Curtain training system, a method that increased grape yields. Shaulis' group also contributed to the development and evaluation of the first mechanical grape harvesters, which modernized the production process. E. F. Taschenberg, an entomologist at the Fredonia lab for more than 40 years, supervised important studies to control grape pests through chemical means. He is credited with developing the prototype hooded boom sprayer, which minimized off-target drift when applying insecticides, and collaborated with other researchers to use pheromones to disrupt insect mating. The laboratory's main building was renamed in Taschenberg's honor in 1991.

Perhaps the lab's most recognized study is the West Tier Factorial, an experiment begun by Shaulis that ran for 49 years and is considered to be the longest viticulture study in history. In 1959, Shaulis planted Concord grapevines on a plot at the Fredonia lab to begin a examination into floor management, nitrogen fertilization, rootstocks, pruning, training, and shoot positioning-factors with a direct effect on root function and canopy and crop. To this day, Cornell researchers are gaining insights and devising new studies based on Shaulis' initial work.

The Vineyard Research Laboratory was originally established on 30 acres of land just west of Fredonia. In 1958, it relocated to its current home inside the village limits of Fredonia.

In recent years, the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program (LERGP), a joint effort of Cornell and Pennsylvania State University that includes more than a dozen faculty members, has focused on developing practices that ensure the profitability and sustainability of local vineyards. LERGP researchers and extension educators have created a sustainable, mechanized method of predicting and controlling crop size in Concord grapes, and they study environmentally conscious techniques for the control of insects, disease, and weed pests in vineyards.