Courtesy of Kim Fetrow/Idaho Wine Commission
Bud break arrived a bit late this year at some southwest Idaho vineyards, where mid-April usually marks the start of the grape-growing cycle as vines emerge from dormancy.
“We do have bud break. It’s not full-blown yet,” said Gregg Alger, who owns Huston Vineyards west of Caldwell, Idaho. On April 19, he said his vineyards — including some of the warmest sites in the southwestern Idaho-southeastern Oregon wine region along that segment of the Snake River — were more than a week behind normal.
“We are a little behind right now, but I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “We’re a little late, but that shouldn’t impact us. We’re off to a good-looking start to the 2018 growing season.”
Local grape growers are starting to see good vineyard conditions after the year started off warm, got wet and cold quickly, and then settled into a mostly mild pattern.
Mike Williamson, partner in Williamson Orchards and Vineyards in the Sunnyslope area between Caldwell and Marsing, said he had worried February’s warm first half would prompt early bud emergence and greater vulnerability to frost. But spring started colder and wetter than usual, bringing things back to normal or even slightly behind normal.
“We are seeing bud break on a few varieties this week,” Williamson said April 18. “This is about the normal time we see this stage of development. It is hard at this time to predict if this translates to a full crop, or even harvest timing.”
Last year, he saw grape production as low as 5 to 15 percent of normal, depending on location, following the harsh winter. Some vineyards on steeper slopes fared better.
“We lost a lot of grape production (in 2017), but the roots were still pretty strong,” Williamson said. Solid production is expected this year from vines that came off surviving root systems and were retrained.
“I am predicting 80 percent of normal production off these,” he said.
Nearby, at Bitner Vineyards, Ron Bitner on April 20 was finishing pruning about 75 acres of vineyards.
“Vines look good compared to last year,” he said. “Buds are starting to emerge. Barring any late frosts, we are off to a good start for 2018.”
To the north and east, Gary Cunningham owns 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards and manages five other vineyards in the Eagle Foothills wine-growing area. The locale is known for higher-elevation vineyards and steep slopes, cooler temperatures but usually lower frost risk, mineral-rich and quickly draining soils, and ample opportunity to place plants at ideal growing aspects and angles.
“The vineyards all are just in absolutely fantastic shape,” Cunningham said. “We are looking forward to a record harvest.”
For this year, he planted about 20 percent more vineyard acres at 3 Horse Ranch and about 35 percent more at other Eagle-area sites he manages.
Grape growers won’t celebrate conditions until after the odds of a late frost drop greatly around May 10, Cunningham said. “Anything could happen. We are farmers,” he said.
But weather forecasts call for favorable, generally warm conditions, he said.
Last year notwithstanding, recent warm winters helped create optimum grape-growing conditions, Cunningham said.
“And this year would be a viticulturist’s dream,” he said.