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Jun 20, 2013 9:05 AM by Tara Oster - KAJ News

Northwest MT testing could turn grapes into wine

KALISPELL - It won't meet the vigor of California, Washington, and Oregon, but in the next few years, the Flathead could be mass producing wine grapes.

There are currently a dozen varieties of grapes are growing as part of a trial study at a Kalispell vineyard, with MSU Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent Pat McGlynn explaining that they're working with a different kind of fruit.

McGlynn says they are using hybrid grapes - in this case a European grape crossed with the native North American grape - which makes them stronger, disease resistant, and cold hardy.

"They have also a shorter ripening requirement and lower growing degree requirement so they're much more suited to our area," McGlynn explained.

Test vineyards in Kalispell, Plains, Ronan, and Yellow Bay are producing slightly different results - leading to one species of grape being completely removed from the study because it only grew at a vineyard in Plains.

Local growers are also learning slightly different growing and harvesting techniques which are geared specifically for the climate of Northwest Montana, something McGlynn says is absolutely essential.

"We don't want Montana to jump out there into the field of wine making and grape growing and then not be able to produce a quality wine, so we want to have a quality product right out of the gate."

McGlynn added that if the vineyards are successful in the Flathead, it could mean a big boost to the local economy.

"We have a market for all the grapes that we can produce right now because our local wineries want to have Montana grapes right now," McGlynn added.

It would also mean a jump in tourism to the fall "shoulder season" during harvest time.

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