Volunteers whip demo vineyard back into welcoming shape

Kathy Dillon prunes Chardonnay vines Sept. 19 as part of a group effort to improve a nine-year-old demonstration vineyard in downtown Caldwell, Idaho.

That demonstration vineyard in the heart of downtown Caldwell, Idaho, isn’t really new.

It just looks that way after volunteer wine enthusiasts on Sept. 19 showed up for their fifth and final weekly session of pruning, raking and hauling.

The group apparently met its first of two goals: restoring the eight-row, seven-varietal vineyard’s capability to help welcome visitors to the nearby wine country. Next, volunteers plan to convene in February to give the vineyard a sleek, winemaker-ready look, though it’s not designed for commercial purposes.

Treasure Valley Community College viticulture and enology students in 2009 established the vineyard. Student volunteers maintained it for a time after lackluster enrollment factored into the program’s end. TVCC offers several agriculture programs.

Meanwhile, downtown Caldwell was in the midst of revitalization, among other things uncovering and cleaning up Indian Creek to anchor streetscape and parkland improvements that would draw more visitors. The demonstration vineyard became a kind of welcome mat to the nearby wine country. Eventually it sat mostly unattended, growing foliage and losing grapes to passing birds and people.

“What we’ve had to do is get it to a level that it is presentable and that looks respectable to the brand promise we made to this community,” said Gregg Alger, who owns Huston Vineyards.

Cane pruning the vines into shorter and more uniform profile, properly positioning them on wires, training them to grow in the right direction and some more root-area cleanup will be on tap in the vineyard in February.

Alger said it’s looking good for now, having missed a couple of pruning cycles, and can again be part of advocates’ efforts to make downtown Caldwell a key gathering place in connection with the Sunnyslope Wine Trail portion of the Snake River American Viticultural area.

“It is a nice representation of our many wines we have to offer in the local Sunnyslope wine region,” said Lisa Gabiola-Weitz, one of the eight volunteers.

“Something needed to be done, “ said local accountant Mike Hensel. He and some of the other volunteers said they experienced health challenges recently and were happy to help out, get outside and relax.

He and Mike Pollard, a Caldwell City Council member, came up with the idea, Pollard said.

The vineyard exists in part “to feature Caldwell as the gateway to the wine industry,” said Pollard, who circulated the volunteer cleanup idea on social media.

“We’re just a bunch of volunteers,” he said.

Each participant brought his or her own equipment, and the city, which owns the property, each week loaned a dump truck, Pollard said.

The vineyard grows Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec wine grapes.

Recommended for you