Idaho winegrape crop survives close call

Sean Ellis/Capital Press Idaho Wine Commission board members Gregg Alger and Melanie Krause discuss the quality of IdahoÕs 2011 winegrape harvest Nov. 17 at Cinder winery in Garden City, Idaho.

'It was a nail-biting season, but the outlook for the wine is great'

By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

Because of a cold spring and late start to summer, Idaho's grapes took their time ripening this year and the state's winegrape crop survived a close call.

Harvest was pushed back and lower temperatures started moving in, but late-season weather cooperated and industry officials say grape quality is excellent, even though total production was down.

"It was a nail-biting season, but the outlook for the wine is great," said Melanie Krause, co-owner of Cinder winery.

While weather in June was abnormally cool, October weather in Idaho's main grape-growing region in southwest Idaho was unusually moderate, said Huston Vineyards owner Gregg Alger.

"It looks like we had good quality," he said. "We had a beautiful year."

Alger said the region averages its first frost on Oct. 10, but this year's initial frost didn't occur until Halloween night.

"We had good growing conditions pretty much the whole month of October," he said. "We were so far behind because of the cool June that we needed that time."

While the state's early and mid-season winegrape varieties turned out fine, there was a lot of concern heading into October that the late-season varieties would have enough time to reach maturity. When it gets too cold, grapes stop producing the desired sugar levels.

Moya Shatz, Idaho Wine Commission executive director, said bud-break didn't occur until late April, several weeks later than normal. However, the rest of the season went smoothly, she said.

"The growing season was great, once it started," said Skyline Vineyards owner Dale Jeffers. "The temperatures have had excellent balance."

Unlike some other states, Shatz said, Idaho didn't have any freeze damage issues from last winter and there wasn't much pressure from powdery mildew, a fungal disease that causes visual problems on grapes and is expensive to control.

The state's cold spring, warm summer and long fall were similar to last year, and Shatz said each variety this year was harvested within a few days of last year, which produced balanced wines.

Idaho growers harvest about 3,300 tons of winegrapes each year but this year's crop was about 10-15 percent smaller. However, Shatz said, the quality will make up for the reduced production.

She said the white wines are expected to be very flavorful, similar to last year's whites, and the red grapes are the size of small berries, which should lead to good color extraction.

"Especially for reds, smaller berries help you with wine quality," Alger said.

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