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Award winner highlights endangered California grape

One of the two winners of the 2007 Geoffrey Roberts Award is using his prize money to draw attention to endangered American produce such as the Charbono grape.

Now in its 12th year, the competition – named for an influential new world wine importer – rewards proposals that make a positive difference to food, drink and travel.

Florida-based geography teacher Richard Villadoniga, 30, will spend his £3,000 (US$6,000) travel bursary visiting dozens of small US farmers and ranchers who specialise in rare breeds, fruit and vegetables.

‘I’ve always been interested in food, wine and travel, and I’m teacher so I have the summer off,’ Villadoniga told decanter.com.

‘I wanted to do something useful with my time, so I developed a project to spotlight endangered traditional American foodstuffs. There are a lot of people doing great work – preserving livestock and fantastic produce that is under threat because it’s difficult to cultivate or they don’t have the means to promote their products to a wider audience.’

Villadoniga hopes the media attention and his blog (eat-american.com) will generate enough interest to open new markets for the disappearing produce. He will also use his experience as material for his young students.

Among the items Villadoniga has identified are the California Mission olive, the pawpaw (the largest edible fruit native to ths US), the Kansas Red Wattle pig, and the dwindling Charbono grape.

The late-ripening grape – of which only 26 hectares remain – requires a great deal of heat, and fares best in the northern Napa Valley. It may be related to the Argentinian Bonarda or Italian Dolcetto.

‘Only a handful of producers are making wine from Charbono,’ said Villadoniga. ‘It’s a needy, late-blooming grape, and most vineyards don’t want to take a chance on it. By the time it’s ready to pick, they’ve already invested so much time in their Cabernets and Merlots. But it makes a really interesting wine.’

Award co-winner Jock Brandis, an inventor, will use his winnings to further the aims of the Full Belly Project (fullbellyproject.org), a charity that provides simple machinery to impoverished communities in the developing world, to add value to their produce. Brandis is testing a new stove that burns agricultural waste without smoke.

Written by Maggie Rosen

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