FAMU’s viticulture center has grape expectations

Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research wine
processing and grape research room. | Photo credit: Thaddaeus Watkins

To uphold a legacy and increase knowledge of grapes, researchers at Florida A&M are being put to the test. Expectations are required to continue the capabilities and future of grapes and wines produced at FAMU’s Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research.

CVSFR Director, Violeta Tsolova is passionate about ensuring all families of grapes and small fruits located on the premises are healthy from the root, both during and off season. 

“Diseases among grapes are extremely usual,” said Tsoloya. “Climate issues and illnesses impact grape growth tremendously and are in fact a common occurrence. Although it is not favorable, it’s life.”

Major problems with growing grapes, aside from storms and natural disasters, are related to sunlight, temperature, water and insects. To combat these, grape growers use various management options to face issues head on, including site selection, vineyard design and viticultural practices within a growing season.

Vineyards in California sometimes face many wildfires leaving their acres scorched and black. Winemakers and grape researchers across the world question the potential threats facing the industry.

In Florida, natural disasters are a major threat. As a safety precaution, researchers at CVSFR canceled last fall’s annual Grape Harvest Festival, one of the university’s showcase community events, because of the threat of a hurricane. The festival is to celebrate agricultural discovery in recognition of FAMU’s role as a national leader in viticulture research. This event draws more than 3,000 participants from all over North Florida.

College of Agricultural and Food Sciences graduate Frank Humphries currently has the job of enhancing the Florida wine industry. Humphries carefully practices the procedure of producing wine daily.

“There is a special method in processing grapes,” said Humphries. “Every part of producing wine starts with healthy grapes. Without healthy grapes, there is no healthy wine.”

CVSFR owns 55 acres in total in eastern Tallahassee off Mahan Drive. It includes a facility that specializes in wine production, small fruit research, revitalizing infected grape vines and continuing grape research along with a 45-acre muscadine grape vineyard.

The researchers of CVSFR work closely with the state viticulture and horticulture industry and assist growers by providing new relevant scientific information and hands-on training. In addition, CVSFR offers several programs to further education of grape and small fruits.

The program areas include biotechnology, grape genetics and breeding, vinification and bioprocessing and viticulture and product development.

The sign outside the facility states, “Empowering Florida Agriculture & Training Technological Ready Young Professionals.”

Tsoloya said it’s a primary goal of the center. “I want the facility to improve as much as possible,” Tsoloya said. “A better facility provides better opportunities and more advancements for young professionals within the industry.”

CAFS graduate student Jazmine Alexander researches plant science and biotechnology. Alexander devotes her time to perfecting her duties within the industry.

“As a graduate student, I am responsible with ensuring my duties at CVSFR are fulfilled,”  Alexander said. Alexander is currently working on a project tailored to muscadine grape research.

Although threats are possible, CVSFR researchers continue their daily tasks in producing a healthy vineyard.

“We always have expectations to mandate,” said Alexander.

A backyard muscadine grape vineyard is located at Cascades Park within a community garden. The garden is free to the public to consume. Broccoli, tomato, mint and a mass selection of other fruits and vegetables are also provided.

The 2018 Grape Harvest Festival is being planned. even though a date has not been set.

For more information about CVSFR, visit www.famu.edu/Viticulture