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Grape production, market viability covered at Montana event

MISSOULA, Mont. — Nearly 100 people attended the second annual Montana Grape and Wine Conference in June at the DoubleTree Hotel in Missoula, Mont. Wine makers and grape growers gathered to discuss the diverse potential for grape production and market viability for wine produced and sold in the state.

A wide variety of topics were covered, including pruning, irrigation, frost and pest protection methods, diagnosing grapes for adequate nutrition and correct deficiencies, grape and wine economics and possibilities, understanding the economic impact of northern grapes and wines, and exploring the hybridization processes at the Western Montana Agricultural Research Center. Participants were also taken on a wine tour through the Bitterroot Valley and Missoula, visiting Ten Spoons and Hidden Gems vineyards.

“Everyone was very excited about the wines,” said Sheryl Getman, art and communications director. “That’s the test. We have to get our wine out and see what people are thinking about. There was good feedback and great wines.”

The Montana Grape and Winery Association was formed in 2014 and held their first conference last year. The main goals of the association center around education, community building and the dissemination of up-to-date information. Group members are enthusiastic and passionate about the future of grape growing and wine making in the state.

“There’s nothing like growing the grapes, making the wine and opening that very first bottle,” said Dan Getman, Montana Grape and Wine president. “It takes years of hard work and incredible devotion to make this happen. It’s a science and it’s also a long-term dream to make Montana wine — and we’re doing it.”

Fit for Montana

A study in 2011 began researching what varieties of cold hardy grapes would be best suited for Montana’s climate. The project initiated a discussion on the future of Montana’s wine industry, including a directory of grape growers, wineries and interested people who share the vision of a new wine industry in the state.

“We’re not going to compete against Washington or California,” Dan says. “We want to set ourselves apart and make something that’s purely from Montana’s amazing air, unique soil and pure water.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are currently 110 Montana grape growers and wine makers, with more being added each week. An estimated 80 growers currently grow grapes, most of which are novice grape growers who have benefitted from the expertise of university studies. Currently, table grapes sell for $2 per pound, while wine grapes sell between 50 cents and $1 per pound. A report published by MSU Extension Agent Patricia McGlynn shows there is an average of 545 vines per acre.

Dan hopes to put together a focus group later this year that will work on issues involving legislation surrounding grape growing and wine production in Montana.

“Wine makers have enough to go on that we know we’re going to succeed,” Sheryl said.  “It’s at a new place.”