Grape Breeding: History and Cold Hardy Expertise

August 28, 2015

Expertise Results in High Quality Wine Grapes

Wine grape harvesting.The University of Minnesota formally initiated a breeding program for wine grapes in the mid-1980's. In 2000, we completed a state-of-the-art enology lab and research winery. Today, we're recognized as one of the top wine grape programs in the United States. Our goal is to develop high quality, cold hardy, and disease resistant wine and table grape cultivars. 

Extensive Breeding

Our program encompasses over 10 acres of research vineyards with approximately 10,000 experimental vines. Seedlings are produced each year using a diverse genetic base that includes classic Vitis vinifera cultivars, quality French hybrids, and cold hardy, disease resistant selections based on V. riparia, Minnesota's native grape. Over 1,000 vines are planted each year and subjected to high standards of evaluation.

Thorough Testing

U of M wine grapes in winter.Currently over 100 U of M advanced selections are being tested, as well as over 400 cultivars and selections from other breeding programs. In addition to cold hardiness and disease resistance, viticultural traits such as productivity, cluster size, growth habit, bud break, and ripening times are evaluated.    

Wine Enology

Working hand-in-hand with the Grape Breeding Project, the UM Enology Project aids in new cultivar evaluation by producing numerous experimental wines from test cultivars each year. The project aims to benefit regional industry by determining the optimum processing methods for both new and existing cultivars, and providing local support for the analytical, technical, and educational needs of the developing Minnesota wine industry.

In addition, researchers in the project are interested in characterizing the unique components of new cultivars introduced to the industry. Due to their interspecific ancestry, U of MN cultivars have different color, tannin structure, and flavor compounds than traditional wine grapes, and these differences are reflected in the finished wine. The better these unique matrices are understood, the easier it will be for growers and winemakers to produce high-quality wine.

For this reason, spectrometric tests are run on all cultivars, especially highly-colored reds. Eventually, this analysis will allow researchers to quantify and compare the amounts of red pigment (anthyocyanins), tannins, and total phenolic compounds in new hybrids to those of native American and European grape varieties, as well as other hybrids. Flavor compounds in key cultivars- Frontenac, La Crescent, Frontenac gris and Marquette- are analyzed with a combination of instrumental and sensory methods. Determining key wine components will ultimately allow producers to make educated choices about processing methods that best fit their stylistic goals.

Award winning wines featuring U of M grapes.Wine Evaluation

In our state-of-the-art facility, an expert staff uses numerous tools to evaluate all aspects of our experimental wines. Instruments are used to measure polyphenols (pigment and tannins), acidity, and sugar, as well as aroma and flavor. A trained taste panel evaluates various sensory aspects, including visual appeal, bouquet, flavor, and mouthfeel.

The expert use of the latest advances in propagation, hybridization, cultivation, and winemaking ensures the introduction of vines with superior performance in both vineyard and winery.

Did You Know?

The study of wine grapes is usually broken into two areas: viticulture and enology. Viticulture is the science and cultivation of grape vines, whereas enology (derived from the Greek word for wine oinos + -logy) is the science that deals with wine and wine making.