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Study looks at soil characteristics of Idaho wine region

The soil characteristics of the Sunny Slope wine region in southwestern Idaho will be analyzed during an 18-month study financed by a specialty crop grant. Industry leaders believe this project could help Idaho attract more vineyard acres and wineries.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on September 4, 2014 4:21PM

Wine grapes grow in a vineyard in the Sunny Slope region of southwestern Idaho last October. A $72,000 specialty crop grant will be used to identify specific soil characteristics in the region, which encompasses the majority of Idaho’s vineyard acres.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press

Wine grapes grow in a vineyard in the Sunny Slope region of southwestern Idaho last October. A $72,000 specialty crop grant will be used to identify specific soil characteristics in the region, which encompasses the majority of Idaho’s vineyard acres.

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CALDWELL, Idaho — Idaho’s wine industry will use a $72,000 grant to identify the soil characteristics of the Sunny Slope area, a project industry leaders believe will position the state to attract more vineyard acres and wineries.

The vast majority of Idaho’s vineyards are located in this region along the Snake River, which received an American Viticultural Area appellation in 2007.

A previous study funded through a federal grant mapped the entire AVA and identified the climate and landscape potential of the region.

The recent specialty crop grant, awarded through the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, will determine the textural and chemical nature of soils in the Sunny Slope area.

According to the grant application, the project “will provide a baseline dataset and foundation for growth in Idaho’s wine grape industry.”

Bitner Vineyards owner Ron Bitner, one of the project leaders, said this study is important because soil types influence the different flavors of wines.

He said the industry wants to attract more vineyard acres to the area and ultimately some more major wineries and the groundwork for that goal has been laid over the past decade with the AVA designation and climate study.

“This is kind of the finishing touch, identifying the soil characteristics of some of these sites,” he said.

The study will help substantiate the Idaho AVA region as unique, which will help the industry in its efforts to attract other wineries to the state, said Williamson Orchards & Vineyards owner Mike Williamson.

“It’s going to help us describe and distinguish this area as being special and maybe having some characteristics other wine grape regions don’t have,” he said.

Williamson plans to add 35 acres of wine grapes over the next four or five years.

By knowing the specific characteristics of the soil, “I can better decide where to plant,” Williamson said. “That will be good for us and it will be good for the growth of the industry as well.”

About 300 soil samples will be collected and analyzed during the 18-month project, which includes placing soil sensors in 45 locations around the region to track soil moisture and climate information that will be made available to growers.

The study will include people involved with agriculture, researchers from Boise State University and Northwest Nazarene University and members of the technology industry.

Bitner said the project could help kick-start another industry goal: Bringing together the hi-tech industry on the east side of the valley and the agricultural industry on the west side.

“We think there is some real potential for the two to work together to create jobs using hi-tech and agriculture,” he said. “This will be an opportunity to bring those two groups together to work on something like that.”



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