Precept reports no sign of winter damage in Idaho vineyards

By on February 10, 2013
Precept Wine recently ran tests on portions of their Idaho vineyards and report no signs of damage related to January's long stretch of single-digit temperatures. (Photo courtesy of Idaho Wine Commission).

Precept Wine recently ran tests on portions of its Idaho vineyards and reports no signs of damage related to January’s long stretch of single-digit temperatures. (Photo courtesy of Idaho Wine Commission).

CALDWELL, Idaho — Precept winemaker Maurine Johnson, who has been part of the Idaho wine industry since arriving at Ste. Chapelle Winery in 1987, is not too worried about the extended cold blast in the Snake River Valley last month.

Single-digit temperatures were recorded during a two-week stretch in Idaho’s key growing area for wine grapes. However, a variety of factors worked in the industry’s favor, particularly at Skyline Vineyard — the state’s largest planting and controlled Seattle-based Precept Wine.

Ste. Chapelle logo“I expect there will be some damage,” Johnson wrote in a recent report. “I would be surprised if there wasn’t, but I would also be surprised if it was significant.”

Precept communications director Heidi Witherspoon said Dale Jeffers of Winemakers LLC, which operates Precept’s vineyards for the Baty family, has not detected any damage in tests on cuttings in the immediate wake of the cold spell.

“Keeping in mind with 20 to 25 cuttings per block and eight to 10 buds per cutting, it is certainly a small percentage of buds that are out there,” Witherspoon said. “Dale is holding reservation, but overall, the crop is still quite promising.”

She added, “When spring hits, if anything is damaged, it’ll likely be older plantings that may have already been susceptible and ready for a swap out.”

Tests at Sawtooth, Skyline vineyards

Krista Shellie, a USDA researcher based in Parma, is conducting a long-term study of more than a dozen warm-climate red varieties and Grüner Veltliner at Sawtooth Vineyard, also held by Precept. Her team reported no damage in any of those cuttings, Witherspoon said.

Precept Wine logoSawtooth (70 acres) and adjacent Skyline (400 acres) are among the valley’s highest sites at 2,700 feet in elevation, and they did not reach the minus-10 temperatures charted in other areas last month. Johnson also pointed out the timing of the cold spell took place at a less-threatening time of year.

“It’s relatively late in the winter,” Johnson said. “These vines were harvested at an average time — much earlier than 2011 — and had plenty of time to harden off. In fact, we saw significant lignification early in the fall.”

She added, “The cold came on very slowly, giving vines even more chance to acclimate. The temperature in November and December (were) pretty even and pretty cool. If we had some warm days that could be a problem, but we have not.”

Recent blast no comparison to 1990-91 killing freeze

Johnson, whose mentors included winemaker Kevin Mott, now at famed Woodward Canyon Winery in Lowden, Wash., has vivid memories of the 1990-91 winter in the Snake River Valley.

“The cold snap hit in the middle of December after a very mild fall, and the temperatures were minus 20 and lower (they still show up as records for those dates) and it hung on for two weeks,” Johnson wrote. “It was sudden and unmerciful!! This cold snap (was) nothing like that.”

About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the President and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for a decade. He is a frequent wine judge at international wine competitions throughout North America and orchestrates 10 Northwest competitions each year.

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