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"We don't know what to expect," Excessive heat and smoke a cause of concern for Idaho's wineries

Stormy Vineyard
Posted at 3:49 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 17:49:52-04

Idaho (KIVI) -- With about a month and a half left until the start of grape harvesting, the excessive heat and smoke is cause for concern for the hundreds of wineries in Idaho, Washington state, Oregon, and California. The Pacific Northwest has been baking this summer with record-setting heatwaves.

“It’s kind of like Yosemite Sam, you just panic and start throwing things," Meredith Smith joked, she's a winemaker at Sawtooth Winery in Idaho. "It’s just like you don’t really know what to expect.”

Right now the grapes are set and starting to grow.

“We should be moving towards veraison, and veraison is when you’ll start to see the color change,” Smith said.

The grapes will start to ripen, but with a least a month of excessive heat and more to come, Smith is concerned for the future of her grapes.

“We might be in a fairly decent period of time, and I mean knock on wood," Smith said.

"But we are not towards veraison yet so we are kind of in green berry growth and the berries may have a little more protection than if we were in veraison.”

Timing is really everything, but if the excessive heat continues it may start to have an impact.

“The vines have a tendency to shut down around 95 degrees and so there is not a lot of movement there so you may have delayed ripening,” Smith said.

“What scares me about delayed ripening is some of our varietals that need the full ripening time if we happen to not get our Indian summer in October and we get an early frost that might affect the quality of the fruit.”

The heat can also reduce the number and size of the grapes on a cluster, resulting in less juice to make wine.

"The fruit looks great, so far. There are a lot of fruit out there, so far it hasn’t really affected at least the number of clusters, but we will have to wait to see if it affects the weight of the clusters," Meredith said. "The heat will affect the fruit, it's just to what extent we don’t know, but we can still get fruit and make great wine."

It also may affect the quality of each varietal differently.

"The quality of some of the varietals may turn out to be fantastic and some may take a hit. We just don't know yet," Smith said.

There are a couple of things winemakers can do right now to help. They are keeping their vines wet so they don't shut down and creating more shade. Smith says she's just hoping for the best.

But, now there's another cause for concern: smoke.

"We had smoke one year when the Owhyees caught on fire. It affected the flavors of my wines. That intense smoke so close really affected the flavors of the wine," Smith said.

"Right now where we have smoke and last year when we had smoke it didn’t really affect the flavors I don’t feel of the vintage of last year. I think the reds and whites still turned out fantastic, so I'm not concerned right now.”

Ultimately they won't know the effects until they taste the juice after harvest, and again after it comes out of the barrel. There's also a lot of research being done on the effects of smoke and excessive heat and what winemakers can do to protect the vineyards.

Winemakers across the Pacific Northwest are working together to make plans and best practices because the heat and smoke don't appear to be going away.

“This year is going to be a good example of what we might potentially be dealing with in the future, and how we can adapt to work within this environment, but I mean I hope it doesn’t continue like this,” Smith said.

This story originally reported by Lynsey Amundson on KIVITV.com.