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Idaho’s 2017 wine grape crop takes a big hit

Idaho’s main wine grape growing region was hammered by a January cold spell and vineyard owners and managers expect this year’s crop to be down significantly as a result.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on September 29, 2017 8:20AM

Chardonnay wine grapes are harvested in a field near Caldwell, Idaho, Sept. 28. Idaho’s 2017 wine grape harvest will be significantly reduced due to the damage caused by a bitter January cold snap.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press

Chardonnay wine grapes are harvested in a field near Caldwell, Idaho, Sept. 28. Idaho’s 2017 wine grape harvest will be significantly reduced due to the damage caused by a bitter January cold snap.

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A farm worker picks chardonnay wine grapes in a field near Caldwell, Idaho, Sept. 28. Idaho’s 2017 wine grape harvest will be significantly reduced due to the damage caused by a bitter January cold snap.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press

A farm worker picks chardonnay wine grapes in a field near Caldwell, Idaho, Sept. 28. Idaho’s 2017 wine grape harvest will be significantly reduced due to the damage caused by a bitter January cold snap.

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CALDWELL, Idaho — Idaho’s wine grape crop will be significantly reduced this year due to severe damage caused by a bitter January cold snap.

But 2016 was a bumper year for wine grape production in Idaho and that will help lessen the impact, vintners and vineyard owners told Capital Press.

Wine grape harvest in this area recently kicked off and growers are expecting markedly reduced overall tonnage.

Dale Jeffers, manager of Skyline Vineyards, said the low temperature reached minus 26.9 degrees in his vineyards near Nampa on Jan. 7 and it reached minus 24.5 and minus 21 the two days prior to that.

Other growers reported low temperatures of between minus 20-23 on those days.

The result was a massive reduction in this year’s wine grape crop in southwestern Idaho, where most of the state’s wine grapes are grown.

Jeffers, who has been farming in the area for 30 years, said, “I certainly don’t remember anything colder than that. It’s pretty devastating.”

He said he will end up harvesting only about 54 of the 470 acres of wine grapes he has in production.

Temperatures reached minus 20 degrees near vineyards owned by Williamson Orchards and Vineyards in Caldwell, said manager Mike Williamson.

“Our harvest is way, way down,” he said. “I’d say we will not be picking about 95 percent of our crop this year.”

Winemaker Martin Fujishin, who owns Fujishin Family Cellars in Caldwell, started picking wine grapes Sept. 27.

“We still don’t know what the full impact is going to be but I can tell the crop is quite a bit lighter,” he said. “We’re probably looking at about 40 to 50 percent of a normal crop.”

Fujishin was more fortunate than some other vintners in the area in that he sources many of his grapes from older, higher-elevation vineyards, which “actually weathered through pretty well compared with the lower-elevation vineyards,” he said.

Huston Vineyards Owner Gregg Alger said he will harvest about 15 tons of wine grapes this year, way down from the normal 120 tons. But he said last year’s large crop will help lessen the pain.

“We were blessed with the 2016 harvest being so beautiful,” he said. “A lot of folks last year had to find extra tanks and barrels. They had a little extra that can carry them through this year.”

The harsh winter in southwestern Idaho resulted in a blanket of snow on the ground that reached two to three feet deep for an extended period and helped insulate vines.

Many vineyard owners and managers said they cut their vines down to the snow line.

“The roots are fine but anything above the snow line is trash,” Jeffers said.

The good news, Williamson said, is that the vines he cut “are pushing up new replacement growth like crazy.”

While those vines won’t produce anything this year, he expects them to produce about 85 percent of a normal crop next year “and we are expecting to be fully recovered in two years.”



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