Why growers are optimistic about crops despite lower grape yields

Marc Lutz//November 16, 2023//

Workers harvest crops earlier this year at Skyline. (PHOTO: Idaho Wine Commission)

Why growers are optimistic about crops despite lower grape yields

Marc Lutz//November 16, 2023//

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Despite smaller harvest yields this year, optimism is growing among Idaho’s vineyards.

Growers are stating that crops came in before the frost and that overall quality is “outstanding,” though down quantity is down from last year’s harvest.

Idaho has six wine-growing regions and has more than 75 wineries throughout the state.

In Caldwell, James Nederend, owner and winemaker of Koenig Vineyards, stated that the outcome of the harvest dampened any initial concerns about the season’s results.

“Initially, we had some concern about fruit getting ripe enough after the cool spring and summer,” he said. “Luckily, a long, beautiful fall made up for this. It allowed the fruit to hang longer and (for) us to be patient with our picking decisions. This year, fruit ripened much more slowly and harvest spanned over two months.”

Jake Cragin a grower at Sawtooth and Skyline Vineyards in the Treasure Valley said yields in the Snake River Valley were “steady and on time,” which is what was forecasted.

“Yields were lower than 2022, which was 15% above average, but slightly better than the long-term average and much higher than the 2021 season.”

The Idaho Wine Commission reported that 3,200 tons of grapes were harvested throughout the state in 2022. The annual average yield is typically 2,463 tons. In 2021, the yield was 2,100 tons. Growers believe that the 2023 harvest is higher than 2021 but final numbers won’t be available until June of 2024.

Cragin added that the wineries his grow operation supplies were looking good in terms of the year’s vintages.

“The wines had good acidity and were very dark in color, with some Syrah leaning towards jet black,” he said. “For whites, the Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc had great aromatics and flavor.”

A worker harvests winegrapes this year. (PHOTO: Idaho Wine Commission)

Nederend, similarly, was optimistic about the results for Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, stating that “both varieties are the last to shop up on our crush pad and they benefited the most from this year’s long fall; beautiful, dark color on these varieties, flavors are on track right out of the press, and I look forward to seeing how they develop over the next two years of oak barrel aging.”

In the northern Lewis-Clark Valley viticulture, the harvest was earlier and faster than usual, said Wine Commission board member Melissa Sanborn. It started about two to three weeks earlier than the normal harvest period, starting in the first week of September and finishing a month later.

“Acids held strong in all varietals and our Tempranillo was the most balanced we’ve ever had it this year,” Sanborn said. She said that all the late-ripening fruit, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre and Sangrantino, were all “beautiful.”