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Winemakers share their secrets about Harvest 2020

Posted by Idaho Wine Commission on Nov 11, 2020

The canopy has been set. The vines have been pruned. The grapes have been watered (and dried out). Now, comes the moment of truth. It's Harvest, the most anticipated and exciting time of year for winemakers and wine tasters alike. After months of hanging on the vine, the grapes are brought inside and winemakers finally get to see, and taste, the fruits of their labor.

Which will be the best? Which will underperform? Which will surprise? It all comes down to this moment.

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When to begin Harvest is one of the most important decisions a winemaker can make. Harvest can make or break you. It requires picking the grapes at peak ripeness – not a moment too soon or too late. The timing of Harvest plays a key role in the sweetness, acidity and tannins of the wine.

There's no exact date, no hard rules and lots of gray areas. The exact moment depends on countless agricultural factors – such as rainfall, temperature, soil, etc. – as well as the ripeness of the fruit itself. And that moment depends on the experience and expertise of the winemaker, with the help of his or her oenologist (an expert in the study of wine and winemaking).

In Idaho, that decision can fall anywhere between late summer through early autumn. Depending on the condition of the grapes and the weather, growers can decide to bring forward the start date or delay it. Generally speaking, the grapes for sparkling wine are harvested first, as early as late July in recent vintages. White grapes are next and then the reds – as well as those destined for dessert wines – come in last. After harvest, the vines go into their long sleep, awaiting next year’s growing season.

It's a race against time. The longer you wait, the higher the stakes – especially during this time of year where an early frost can wipe out a season worth of work overnight.

Once the decision to harvest has been made, things move quickly. The grapes are picked as quickly as possible and rushed to the winery, where the hard work really begins. Right now, vineyards across the gem state are buzzing with activity as winemakers begin the painstaking process of transforming humble grapes into an award-winning vintage.

This year, a cooler-than-usual spring with lots of rainfall gave way to a long, dry summer. What does that mean for this year's Harvest across Idaho? We reached out to some of Idaho's winemakers for an exclusive preview of what they're expecting out of this year's harvest.

James Bopp at Pend d’Oreille Winery

"If proper care was taken to harvest fruit at its prime, most of them should make for very nice wines. There were some similarities to me with a year such as 2013. I had a number of grapes come it with great acid numbers that didn’t require tweaking. I wasn’t too crazy with many of those wines when they were first released back then, but they made for some very good cellaring wines with some bottle aging time."

Scott Smith at Sol Invictus Vineyard

"2020 challenged us in vineyard management. June rainfall accumulation provided a healthy crop for this year. We were working hard to stay ahead of any mildew problems and clusters appear full and healthy. The late-year smoke from the fires delayed sugar accumulation in September, so we are about two weeks later than normal. That being said, the vines are healthy, we don’t appear to have any negative impacts from the smoke, and our Malbec, Syrah, and Sangiovese fruit are looking amazing. 2020 is going to be a really good year."

Mike Williamson at Williamson Vineyards

We have experienced a year like no other. And the big take away that I have seen is a level of resourcefulness, cooperation, and have witnessed neighbors helping neighbors in amazing ways. Yes, the weather season had some challenges with the wettest June in 40 years... But l don't think it will be the weather that I will remember from this year. I have seen our people pull together like no other year. Vineyard teams sharing harvest crews. Wineries helping each other when one falls shorthanded. This is what I will remember from this year."

Coco and Karl Umiker at Clearwater Canyon Cellars

Coco: "If it were a dryer spring we would have had to give the vines a decent amount of water in the spring to kind of go through their bud break and bloom with plenty of moisture. And Mother Nature literally, once again, made us look really good and did the work for us."

Karl: "So, I think the vines had plenty of moisture to start off, and then things just dried down and vines actually like it when it dries down, so we were able to get really nice canopy. We actually make the plant suffer a little bit during the summer to improve the fruit quality, improve the wine quality. And so, having that dry summer allowed us to stress those plants out in a way that was beneficial to the wine."

Coco: "The quality is amazing this year. I mean, amazing. It’s the best the vineyards and the fruit have ever looked coming into harvest. What we’ve brought in is extraordinary. It makes my job as winemaker super easy."

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