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2018 Idaho wine grape crop looks to be better than 2017

CALDWELL ­— The size of Idaho’s 2018 wine grape crop should be markedly higher than the 2017 crop, according to vintners and vineyard owners.


“We’re not across the line yet but it’s looking good so far and this year certainly should be better than 2017,” said Dale Jeffers, manager of Skyline Vineyards, which harvested only a small portion of its normal wine grape crop last year.


The state’s 2017 wine grape crop was significantly impacted by a severe January cold snap that reduced tonnage by more than 90 percent in some vineyards.


Vineyard owners in southwestern Idaho, where the bulk of Idaho’s wine grapes are produced, said low temperatures reached minus 20-27 degrees for several days in January 2017.


They reported massive reductions in overall tonnage as a result. But the 2018 winter was relatively mild and this year’s crop should be much better, they said.


Winemaker and vineyard owner Ron Bitner, who only harvested about 50 percent of his normal crop last year, is pruning right now and said that so far, his vines look good and he’s expecting a far different result in 2018.


“We never know for sure until we drink that vintage, but this year looks to be a lot better than last year,” he said.


Michael Williamson, co-owner and manager of Williamson Orchards and Vineyards, said it’s hard to be worse than last year. His operation experienced a massive reduction in its normal wine grape harvest in 2017.


“I’m pretty optimistic about this year,” he said. “The plant wood I’ve been looking at is all the right color.”


Winemaker Martin Fujishin said he would take even an average year over last year.


“The way it looks now, barring any major weather disasters, 2018 will be a lot better year,” he said. “This year looks like it’s going to be a pretty good year overall, so far.”


The damage caused by last year’s January cold snap was extreme, for both wine and table grapes, said University of Idaho researcher Essie Fallahi, who manages UI’s fruit program in Parma.


He agreed with Williamson that it won’t be difficult to improve on last year’s tonnage.


“Last year the crop was zero in some places and anything is better than zero,” he said. “For both wine and table grapes, we are expecting a better crop this year.”


But, he added, many vineyard owners cut their vines down to the ground or snow line last year, so while this winter was much milder, those people are dealing with younger vines that won’t produce as much as a more mature vine, he said.


“The production will be there but it will not be as high as a normal year,” he said of those vines that were cut.