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Idaho's 2018 wine grape crop bounces back

By: Sean Ellis
Published in Blog on  November 20, 2018

Wine grapes are harvestd in a southwestern Idaho vineyard.

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

CALDWELL – This year’s weather was kind to Idaho wine grape growers and the state’s 2018 crop looks markedly better than last year’s crop, which was hammered by a bitter January cold snap.

“This year’s crop is looking awesome,” said Idaho Wine Commission Executive Director Moya Shatz Dolsby. “We had a very steady growing season. It’s been very even, which is what we want.”

Idaho’s 2017 wine grape crop was severely reduced because of frigid January temperatures that reached minus 27 degrees in some parts of southwestern Idaho, where most of the state’s wine grapes are grown.

Idaho’s wine grape growers typically harvest about 2,500 to 2,900 tons per year but only brought in 400 last year.

This year was a totally different scenario, said Huston Vineyards owner Gregg Alger, who only harvested about 15 tons of wine grapes last year, far less than his typical 120 tons. This year, he brought in 135 tons.

Alger, who grows grapes near Caldwell in the Sunny Slope area of Idaho, the heart of the state’s grape growing region, said all his grapes ripened nicely and had plenty of time on the vine.

“We just had a beautiful crop load this year; it was all just gorgeous,” he said. “We had a long, long fall and the fruit ripened really nicely.”

Skyline Vineyards Manager Dale Jeffers said he delivered just over 200 tons of wine grapes last year. “This year I delivered a skosh over 2,000 tons,” he said.

He said quality was excellent, too.

“I’ve been hearing good things from winemakers about the quality and how the grapes got through fermentation,” Jeffers said. “Everybody seems pretty happy.”

Idaho wine grape growers began harvesting in mid-September and most of the grapes are in by now, with only a smattering of late varieties still on the vine and some grapes that will be used to make ice wines will continue to be picked as late as December.

“Everything looked tremendous this year,” said winemaker Martin Fujishin, owner of Fujishin Family Cellars in Caldwell. “The crop yields definitely bounced back from what we saw last year. Everything came in right where we want it to numbers-wise.”

Michael Williamson, who manages Williamson Orchards and Vineyards in the Sunny Slope area, said last year can best be described as terrible and he only harvested about 5 percent of his normal wine grape crop in 2017.

His grapes last year were impacted by temperatures that reached minus 20 degrees near his vineyard.

“We had a pretty good rebound this year from last year,” he said. “I’m very happy with the results and yields we got this year.”

According to an IWC news release, grapes ripened at a more gradual pace this year than during previous year and growers attribute that to the long, hot summer, which caused vines to slow their water consumption and photosynthesis. Combined with a warm fall and minimum rain, this helped the grapes finish ripening at the start of harvest.

According to Dolsby, the longer harvest season indicates that wines from the 2018 vintage will have well-developed flavors, including bright, fruit-forward notes with balanced acids and tannins.

“The yields from this harvest will transform into some delicious wines,” she said.

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