In Spring 2022, the National Grape Research Alliance (NGRA) announced the NGRA Fellowship, offering $30,000 per year for up to three years to a Ph.D. student conducting research addressing one or more of NGRA’s industry research priorities. In addition to the monetary award, the doctoral fellowship also includes a unique opportunity to receive mentorship, exposure to commercial grape production and networking with the organization’s national Board of Directors, representing all sectors and regions of the American grape and wine industry. The NGRA Fellowship is made possible by a grant from the NGRA Research Fund.
“Many of the legends of grape science are retiring, and a tremendous wave of talented new scientists are coming up—it’s a unique window of opportunity we wanted to leverage,” said NGRA Board Chairman Russell Smithyman. “We established the NGRA Fellowship to begin to initiate and nurture lifelong relationships with promising Ph.D.-level students who aspire to make a career helping to advance grape and wine science through innovative, industry-priority grape research. It’s an exciting initiative for an exciting time in our industry.”
The inaugural NGRA Fellow is Abby Hammermeister (shown above), a graduate student pursuing her Ph.D. in Biophysics as a member of the McElrone USDA-ARS Plant Physiology Lab at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis). Her proposed research, “From Leaves to Space: Linking Physiological Responses to Stress with Proximal Sensing Systems,” focuses on how grapevines’ complex response to heat and drought may be monitored and ultimately managed using proximal sensors and other technologies. In her NGRA Fellowship application, Ms. Hammermeister explained that, as an undergraduate student, she discovered the field of biophysics and its applications to plants. Her research “helped me realize that I could apply my quantitative and computational skills to studying plants and sustainable agriculture,” with a specific interest in water management and grapes and vineyard systems.
Nick Dokoozlian, Vice President – Winegrowing Research at E. & J. Gallo Winery and NGRA Research Chair said, “Abby is an impressive young scientist, who is passionate about applying basic research to further elucidate the bio-physical mechanisms related to grapevine water use. We are anxious to learn how her research progresses and have no doubt that both she and her work will be assets to the industry.
“We are also very pleased to further strengthen our relationship with Abby’s Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Andrew McElrone of the USDA-ARS and UC Davis,” Dr. Dokoozlian continued. “Andrew and the members of his laboratory are highly respected researchers working on the cutting edge of new technologies to improve vineyard irrigation management. Our industry continues to benefit significantly from their research to increase grapevine water use efficiency.”
A native of Cheney, Washington, Ms. Hammermeister earned her bachelor of arts degree in Biology with a minor in Mathematics at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. Her undergraduate research was funded by a Connie Callahan Munzenrider CURE (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience) Scholar award in 2019 and, in coming to UC Davis in 2021, she received the university’s highly competitive Dean’s Distinguished Graduate Fellowship for her first year of study.
“Abby has a bright future as an academic or federal researcher, and can make significant contributions to the grape industry,” said Andrew McElrone, USDA-ARS Research Plant Physiologist and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, who serves as Ms. Hammermeister’s academic advisor. “Support from the NGRA Fellowship will help to ensure that she is working exclusively on grape research and applying her computational and quantitative skills to real-world problems across grape commodities.”
“The opportunity to connect with industry mentors and do research in commercial vineyard settings is a great way to help me better understand how I could contribute to advancing applied research in grapes,” Ms. Hammermeister said. “I welcome these partnerships and the insights into potential career options in the grape industry for Ph.D.-level scientists.”
Ms. Hammermeister was one of 13 Ph.D. students who applied for the NGRA Fellowship. The applicants spanned the U.S., representing California, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Texas and Washington. The research projects they proposed addressed remote sensing and mapping; disease, pest and irrigation management; yield estimation; vineyard soil health; genetics and grapevine breeding and more. And their academic advisors are a who’s who of scientists working in grape today.
“We were humbled by the response from the academic community to our call for entries for the NGRA Fellowship and overwhelmed by the quality of the 13 top-notch applications we received,” said NGRA President Donnell Brown. “These young scientists already are setting a high bar for grape research, and their pursuit of doctorate degrees in grape and wine science underscores their commitment to the industry. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for them and are excited to be part of Abby’s promising career.”
ABOUT THE NATIONAL GRAPE RESEARCH ALLIANCE
The National Grape Research Alliance (NGRA) was organized in 2005 as a strategic planning organization for research to strengthen the productivity, sustainability and competitiveness of America’s grape and wine industry. The nonprofit organization unites all grape sectors including raisin, juice, table and wine grapes together with researchers and grant funders in a unique collaborative effort that focuses on initiating game-changing, national-level research to advance the industry. For more information, visit graperesearch.org.