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January cold reduces Idaho winegrape harvest

Sean Ellis
A January cold snap in southwestern Idaho killed some vines down to the ground and vintners say the state's 2013 winegrape haul will be lighter as a result. However, with harvest mostly finished up, they like the quality of the grapes they've seen.

CALDWELL, Idaho — Idaho’s wine grape haul will be much lighter this year but, with harvest mostly wrapped up, vintners like the quality of the fruit they’ve seen.

“The fruit is a higher quality this year, which means we will have higher quality wines,” said Williamson Orchards and Vineyards Manager Patrick Williamson. “While we aren’t necessarily thrilled with a lower tonnage per acre, when the fruit is this good we will gladly take the trade-off.”

Idaho’s 1,600 vineyards yield about 2,800 tons of wine grapes each year and the state’s 50 wineries produce an average of 183,000 12-bottle cases.

Most Idaho wineries began harvesting in mid-September and wrapped up about mid-October. Only some late-season varieties and ice wines have yet to be harvested.

Wine growers said the smaller-than-normal wine grape haul in 2013 is due mostly to unusually cold January temperatures that killed some vines down to the ground.

Quite a few vineyards harvested nothing because of the cold damage, said Skyline Vineyards Manager Dale Jeffers.

“Because of winter injury, a lot of grape plants produced zero,” he said. “The whole industry saw a lot of that. There’s definitely a lighter load.”

Winemaker Martin Fujishin said total yield statewide could be off by as much as 20 percent.

“There is definitely an overall lower crop yield statewide,” said Fujishin, who teaches viticulture at Treasure Valley Community College. “I think most of the damage probably occurred … from the winter cold we had.”

While the 2013 crop will be below normal, vintners said the quality of the grapes that were harvested is exceptional. Martin said conventional wisdom is that if yields are lower, more of the plant’s resources are devoted to the remaining grapes.

Idaho Wine Commission Executive Director Moya Shatz-Dolsby said nature caused yields to be lighter but for the flavors to be more concentrated.

“We’ll have a little bit smaller crop — it might be off 10 percent overall — but it’s turned out extremely nice,” said Bitner Vineyards owner Ron Bitner. “I think it’s going to make some nice wines for us this year.”

“This year’s harvest was not for the faint-hearted,” said Coiled Wines Winemaker Leslie Preston. But, she added, “I have no doubt that this year’s wine will … be some of the best wine Idaho has seen to date.”

Extremely hot summer temperatures didn’t hurt the grapes and helped offset unusually cold early fall temperatures, said Shatz-Dolsby.

Bitner said the dry, hot summer kept mildew and bug pressure low and he sprayed less than he has in years as a result.



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