by Larry Robertson, NRCS Soil Conservationist, Ronan
Montana’s fledgling grape wine industry was introduced to the world in November at the 2015 VitiNord conference in Nebraska. VitiNord is an international cool climate wine grape conference to promote viticulture and oenology in northern environments and is held every three years.
Recent studies to improve grape varieties for Montana have shown success. Montana has had good results growing new cold hardy grape cultivars that will withstand winter temperatures from 25 to 40 below zero.
Montana has the additional benefit of reduced pest pressure and low humidity that reduces dependence on fungicides, and our consistently cool nights heighten fruit flavors. At the conference it was shown that cold climates can produce superior wines and grape products. This is a great opportunity to diversify into a specialty crop that has good potential to increase farm income or as an alternative for small acreage producers.
Grape variety trials in Montana started in 2011. The trials emphasized the need for management of weeds and grass during establishment and crop/canopy manipulation.
Maybe the greatest accomplishment was getting growers and winemakers together to start the Montana Grape and Winery Association (MGWA). The MGWA formed in 2014 and held their First Annual Meeting June 2015 that drew 70 participants, mostly from western Montana.
Some folks in eastern Montana, notably Tongue River Winery in Miles City, have ventured into grape growing. The truth is, if you can successfully grow grapes in Miles City you can grow them almost anywhere in eastern Montana!