Grape breeding at the University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota is recognized as one of the top wine grape research programs in the country, with the goal of developing high-quality, cold-hardy, and disease-resistant wine grape cultivars. The wine grape breeding program began in the mid-’80s, and in 2000 an enology lab and research winery opened at the Horticultural Research Center. 

Today more than 12,000 experimental vines are cultivated on 12 acres. Thousands of seedlings are produced each year using a diverse genetic base that includes classic Vitis vinifera cultivars, quality French hybrids, and hardy, disease-resistant selections based on V. riparia, Minnesota’s native grape.

The Grape Breeding Process

Currently, more than 100 U of M selections are in advanced tests, as well as more than 400 named varieties and selections from other breeding programs around the world. In addition to cold hardiness and disease resistance, viticultural traits such as productivity, cluster size, growth habit, bud break, and ripening times are evaluated.

When a new grape is released, nurseries get a well-tested selection that has been evaluated for 15 years or more. The cross for ‘Marquette’ was made in 1989, and it was introduced as a new variety in 2006. It is now extensively planted throughout the Midwest and New England.

Advancing Minnesota Enology

The enology project works closely with the breeders by producing numerous experimental wines from test cultivars each year. The project helps wineries by determining optimum processing methods for both new and existing cultivars, and provides local support for the technical needs of the developing Minnesota wine industry. Researchers also work to characterize the components of new grapes. To learn more about enology visit the U of M Enology website.

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All University of Minnesota grape releases

The University of Minnesota grape breeding program has released 13 grape varieties since the research began. Some of the varieties listed below are no longer common or commercially available. Learn more about about UMN grapes.

Variety nameYear released
Blue Jay1944
Red Amber1944
Swenson Red*1977
La Crescent2002
Frontenac gris2003
Frontenac blanc2012

*Joint release with Elmer Swenson.

Support University of Minnesota grape breeding and enology research

Meet the researcher

Matthew Clark

Matthew Clark is an Associate Professor in the CFANS Department of Horticultural Science and is the Director of Research for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. He leads the University of Minnesota Grape Breeding and Enology project and his research focuses on using both traditional and molecular plant breeding approaches to develop improved grape cultivars for cold climate wine production.