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Forget cheese, wine and weather are the perfect pairing

Posted at 11:21 AM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 13:21:57-04

BOISE, Idaho — June is Idaho Wine and Cider Month and all week long, we've been taking a closer look at the booming wine industry in the Gem State. We're exploring what makes southwest Idaho in particular such a sweet spot for wine-making.

Turns out, the weather is where it's at and we learned how Idaho weather and wine are the perfect pairing. When you uncork your favorite bottle of Idaho wine, what do you taste? Grapes of course, maybe some floral or fruity tones, and sunshine.

"What we're doing is capturing the flavor of everything that's around the vineyard, from the soil to the weather that year," said Mike McClure, winemaker at Kuna's Indian Creek Winery.

Over 50 wineries now dot the landscape of the Gem State, in large part because southern Idaho weather is great for grape growing.

"We have nice warm days, cool nights, which helps create a lot of balance in the finished wines."

Balance is the ultimate goal, but McClure says even small shifts in annual patterns can change the flavor of a vintage.

Warmer years in general tend to produce riper wines, riper flavors in the wines. Whereas cooler years we tend to retain a little more acidity and a little bit more structure in the wines.

So what happens when a dramatic weather event hits the vines? Ron Bitner of Caldwell's Bitner Vineyards knows all too well.

"'17 was the worst where it actually took our vines to the ground."

Snowmageddon, the winter of 2017 when southwest Idaho got buried in three feet of snow. It devastated wine production that year.

"We normally produce 900 cases of red wine. That year we produced 177 total."

Cold snaps can actually have a pretty big impact on what ends up going in your glass.

If the leaves fall off the plant with the frost, you don't get the flavors you need. Like a Cabernet, if it's too cold that year and you can pick it late in the season, you can end up with real vegetative flavors.

Outside of those rare, intense weather events though, southwest Idaho weather generally lends itself to a wide variety of healthy, robust, delicious grapes.

"We also have really dry, warm summers which keeps a lot of the pest pressures down," said McClure. "We hardly deal with any bugs and powdering mildew isn't a big concern too."

Winemakers work in conjunction with Mother Nature, nurturing the soil to keep their plants healthy from top to bottom.

"Focus on soil health, trying to retain moisture in the soil. Nice, healthy soils keep the vines healthier, which acts as a buffer between those major climatic swings."

Bitner says despite the ups and downs of his 40-years of growing grapes in the Treasure Valley, he wouldn't change a thing.

I wouldn't trade what we have here in Idaho for anything.

One other fun fact for you, while most Idaho crops are pollinated by bees, grapevines are not. Bitner tells us they are wind-pollinated, meaning the pollen moves from plant to plant via the movement of air instead of insects.