SW Idaho vineyard crews catch up after June’s unusual rains | Orchards, Nuts & Vines

Storm Hodge’s southwest Idaho vineyards were much more lush than usual June 25 after prolonged heavy rains earlier.

“It has just caused a lot of vigor, so the grapes are growing more so than you normally would want this time of year,” said Hodge, who owns Parma Ridge Winery, Bistro & Brewery near Parma. The rains also contributed to “a major weed problem. So now that it’s dried out, we’re just playing catch-up.”

Several of the area’s grape growers in late June faced extra tasks, like thinning shoots and reworking canopies, following unusually heavy rains in the month’s first half. The subsequent dry heat enabled crews to catch up before rains returned June 28-29.

Korri Anderson, National Weather Service meteorologist in Boise, said the city had 3.14 inches through 1 p.m. June 29, making it the fourth-wettest June on record. The average is 0.84 inch and last year’s total was 0.04 inch.

Too much water this time of year can cause “berries” to get too big. Hodge, who is the grape grower, winemaker and chef at Parma Ridge, said drier conditions allow control of the water supply through irrigation, which helps keep berries smaller and better able to develop ideal flavor profiles. Dry conditions also keep crews on schedule spraying for powdery mildew.

“Typically there is not this much growing going on” this time of year, he said. “And typically we have more spraying done for powdery mildew and have been able to spray weeds more.”

Ron Bitner, owner of Bitner Vineyards west of Caldwell, said the rain made it hard to time anti-mildew applications, but crews by June 25 had caught up and were “back to weed control, gopher control and shoot thinning.”

Mike Williamson, of Williamson Orchards between Caldwell and Marsing, said that because the heavy rain left the crop needing less irrigation, it became more challenging to apply fertilizer through drip irrigation.

“We’ve seen rapid growth through June, this year maybe a little more rapid,” he said June 25. “It’s not slowing a whole lot. Now we are busy doing canopy-management practices” such as thinning to optimize sun infiltration.

Williamson, contacted early June 29 as rain fell again, said the new precipitation delayed the hoped-for slowdown in foliage growth. More shoot positioning, leaf trimming and other tasks lie ahead.

Hodge said excess vigor prompts more thinning to keep plant material at the correct mass and headed in the right direction — mainly up into the “fruiting zone” between a horizontal cordon and a catch wire above, instead of building up closer to the ground. Canes often must be repositioned in relation to the catch wire.

“You want all that power into a small group of grapes,” he said.

Hodge looks forward to the higher temperatures that typically set in by July. “Grapes love heat,” he said.

Williamson said that in one variety, he saw a bit of “shatter,” in which some grapes fall off the cluster after not fully forming. It can occur when excess heat follows rain.

“In June, you have time to recover,” he said.

Williamson said he’s happy so far with fruit set, or the transition from bloom to berries.

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