General Information

This 40-acre facility, located about 15 miles east of Erie, serves the grape-processing industry, which has a strong presence along the Lake Erie coastline in Pennsylvania and New York. Grape growing is concentrated here because Lake Erie has a moderating effect on climate. It keeps the soil warmer in the fall and extends the growing season, and the more moderately cool springs prevent early bud break and therefore frost problems. There are insect and disease problems which are unique to grapes which are researched at this facility. Two research technologists are on staff, plant pathologist Bryan Hed and entomologist Jody Timer. University Park entomologist Mike Saunders supervises a variety of research projects.

The Center grows 23 acres of Concord grapes, the purple processing grape, and 5 acres of Niagara grapes, a white processing variety. The Center also grows a host of different wine grapes. In 2008, a wine variety trial was established, with 19 varieties, at the North East facility as part of the multistate NE1020 project. This trial evaluates the viticultural characteristics and wine quality potential of grape cultivars and clones of economic significance throughout the eastern U.S. The only non-grape crops are kiwi berry and haskaps, which are planted to study how the variety fares in Erie’s milder climate.

Researchers work on 10-20 projects every year, most of which test vineyard disease and insect controls. Research projects range from studying new spray technologies for plant diseases and insect control to new techniques for cluster thinning and pheromone attractants. The Center also has two weather systems, one of which is hooked to the NEWA network which gives growers daily information of best timing for pesticide applications.

Profits from grape sales are used as part of the center’s operating budget. Processing grapes not affected by disease or pesticide trials are sold to a Welch’s Inc. plant in North East and the wine grapes are sold to a local winery.

The Erie facility is part of a cooperative effort between Penn State and Cornell University. Each university maintains separate facilities—Cornell operates a vineyard laboratory in Portland, New York—but they cooperate on extension education programs and field days for local growers.