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Late start but strong finish for Idaho wine grapes

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

Idaho’s wine grape growing season got off to a late start this year because of a cool, wet spring, but warm summer temperatures that lasted into late fall resulted in a strong finish.

“It’s been a very good year,” said Caldwell winemaker Martin Fujishin, owner of Fujishin Family Cellars. “I’m pleased with how things came in and yields were definitely up.”

Idaho’s grape growing season was delayed because of the wet, cool spring, but warm temperatures that lasted through much of October helped fruit continue to ripen, said Idaho Wine Commission Executive Director Moya Shatz-Dolsby.

That resulted in higher-than-average yields, she said.

“It’s going to be a great vintage,” she said. “The harvest is great.”

Even though most of southern Idaho experienced a very hot summer, the weather was consistent for much of the growing season, and the state’s typical cool nights helped, Shatz-Dolsby said.

“Even though it was hot, it was consistent and consistency is a good thing for wine grapes,” she said.

The hot summer delayed harvest, Fujishin said. He typically starts harvesting his first grapes around late August or mid-September but didn’t start until Oct. 4 this year.

Beautiful fall weather allowed the grapes to finish ripening and resulted in high yields and great quality, Fujishin said.

“We were very fortunate to have the good fall weather we had that allowed us to get everything in,” he said.

Cellular development in grapes occurs during the spring and this year’s cool spring led to bigger berries and more fruit, said Jake Cragin of Skyline Vineyards in Nampa.

“With the warm summer and fall, the grapes were able to bake in the oven just right for really great quality,” he said.

Idaho has 70 wineries and 1,300 vineyard acres planted. Though grapes are grown across the state, Idaho’s wine industry is concentrated in southwestern Idaho around the Caldwell area.

Wine harvest in Idaho normally begins between the end of August and Labor Day but this year, much of the harvest occurred during the last few weeks of October, Shatz-Dolsby said.

Wine grape yields look good this year, said Jay Hawkins of Lanae Ridge Vineyard outside Caldwell.

“We harvested three weeks behind normal, but the incredibly nice fall enabled us to leave the fruit hanging and not rush the pick,” he said. “We are probably 20 percent higher in tonnage compared to our historical average and easily double last year’s very light crop.”

Kris Martin of Emerald Slope Vineyard, which supplies grapes to a number of Idaho wineries, said yields on some varieties were 10-12 percent higher this year.

Winemakers in North Idaho also experienced delays this year due to cool weather and had fewer hot days overall compared to 2021, Shatz-Dolsby said.

“So far, the harvest is greater than last year’s,” said Kelsie Dyell, assistant winemaker at Lindsay Creek Vineyards near Lewiston. “Lower temperatures than last year created a longer growing season.”