The Buck Starts Here


Curtis Phillips’ article in the December issue of Wine Business Monthly decries the state of wine research funding in the United States as compared to Australia, with the American Vineyard Foundation’s budget at $1.2 M as compared to Australia’s $23 M, mostly gobbled up by the intrepid Australian Wine Research Institute. As he mentions, our publicly funded research pales beside the proprietary investigations pursued by Gallo’s Jim Peck and other in-house secret fact factories. There can be no doubt that in our country, a public system for addressing the practical needs of small wineries is sadly lacking. By continually coming through with useful, practical findings, AWRI trumps our institutions completely through a clear and well organized commitment to Industry.

But Curtis is focusing on politics rather than economics. One should consider what is the ultimate source of these funds. Who actually cash-rolls Australia’s research? Why, the same folks who pay for Gallo’s research, and also for marijuana research and cocaine research and China’s industrial boom. The American consumer. Give ‘em what they want, and they’ll shell out for it. Not to worry.





Morton Leslie:

I've been recently watching a few vineyards try to deal with vine mealybug and I have long been under siege by Pierce Disease. It is depressing to see how little progress has been made and how the University and the County agents have so little to offer. Their recommended treatments/practices are the same as they were two decades ago and they don't work any better today than they did back then. When it comes to "green" solutions... Buddy, you are on your own. Often there is a disconnect between what the industry sees it needs and what the University deems worthy. And that is why we see these individual vineyard managers taking on the experimental burden themselves.

I think one of the main things holding back funding is a long history of study, but little noticeable progress. After a while the money dries up. The industry will, in fact, pay for results.

Of course, the other thing that dries up research money are results and recommendations that are catastrophic... like developing and recommending a rootstock that ends up costing the industry hundreds of millions.





I think part of the issue is that Australia produces a tremendous amount of wine for export where as here in the USA we are keeping most of the wine here at home. My experiences in New Zealand, and I am assuming it is similiar in AUS, is that they form a unified front in terms of marketing abroad. They understand the effects bad wines can have on an entire industry. I think the US relies primarily on domestic sales and this could be one reason why we aren't as hot on research as AUS. I also think one needs to look at where wine is in terms of the GNP of AUS, I would be willing to bet that wine is a bigger portion of the total GNP in AUS than in the US.
I would also be willing to bet that the average size of a winery is much bigger in AUS than in the US, limiting our ability to actually apply recent developments in wine technology. My experiences with Aussie winemaker is that they have all but eliminated the 'romance' from wine production and therefore, I think, much more likely to apply technology to thier wine growing and making. I agree that a $1.2M budget is not enough but I think you would have a hard time getting a consensus on how anymore than that should be spent in terms of R&D. I also think that good 'ol american capitalism is hard at work here; by investing in your own in house research you can gain a competative edge that wouldn't be available to you alone if the work was being done in a more open and public way.