Wine is becoming a big business in Georgia, and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is working to support this growing sector of the economy by providing new expertise for wine growers.
Earlier this month, UGA Extension hired its first full-time wine grape specialist. Cain Hickey will begin his work with Georgia’s wine growers on March 1.
As the state’s Extension viticulturist, Hickey will help wine grape growers in the north Georgia mountains and in west Georgia improve cultural practices in their vineyards, researching new growing practices and varieties that could improve the quality and renown of Georgia’s wines. He’ll also work with the growers of the state’s more traditional vineyard crop, muscadine grapes.
“Wine grapes are a growing agricultural commodity in Georgia, which offers some distinct advantages,” said Mark McCann, UGA Extension’s Agriculture and Natural Resources assistant dean.
“They can fit in small and medium acreage, winemaking is a value-added process and the aesthetic properties of a vineyard offer agritourism opportunities. The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is pleased to add a viticulturist to serve this growing industry.”
In 2005, almost all of the state’s 1,834 acres of grapevines were muscadine grapes grown in south and central Georgia. In 2015 – the latest year for which statistics are available – UGA’s Georgia farm gate value report found that the locus of Georgia’s wine production had spread.
While more than 1,000 acres of muscadine grapes are still spread across the state, more growers have introduced traditional and hybrid wine grapes to farms in north Georgia.
Habersham County, home to a half-dozen wineries, produced more than $2 million in grapes in 2015. According to a 2014 study by the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, Georgia’s wineries have an annual impact of more than $7 million on the state’s economy.
UGA Extension has supported the burgeoning grape and winemaking industry with plant disease and pest experts and through county Extension agents, and Hickey will serve to further Extension’s support efforts. When he begins in March, Hickey will be an assistant professor of viticulture in the college’s Department of Horticulture.
Hickey received his doctorate in 2016 from Virginia Tech, where he focused on applied research in several viticultural areas, including irrigation management, cover crop and rootstock use, and canopy and fruit-zone management. He’s worked in viticulture research since 2007.
Hickey looks forward to working with Georgia grape and wine industry members to solve regional vineyard management issues through his extension and research appointment.