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-’70s, 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.
Several white-fruited mutations of ‘Frontenac’ and ‘Frontenac gris,’ sold as ‘Frontenac blanc,’ are the newest wine grapes derived from the University of Minnesota “Frontenac family.” Several versions of ‘Frontenac blanc’ have been discovered independently by grape growers and nurseries. Trials so far indicate they have the same outstanding vine traits of ‘Frontenac’ and are ready for harvest several days earlier. Various mutations are being evaluated by the enology program to determine whether they differ in winemaking character.
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 Blog.
U of M Grape Varieties
|Frontenac||1996||Red and rosé, port||Vigorous and very disease resistant. Wine has flavors of cherry and plum. Can be high in acidity.|
|Frontenac blanc||2012||White wine||White-fruited sports of Frontenac and Frontenac gris with earlier harvest date.|
|Frontenac gris||2003||White wine||Vigorous and very disease resistant. Wine has a characteristic peach flavor. Can be high in acidity.|
|Itasca||2017||White wine||Lower acidity and high sugar levels. High resistance to downy and powdery mildew and the insect phylloxera.|
|La Crescent||2002||White wine||Very cold hardy. Wine has flavors of apricot, citrus, and tropical fruit. Moderately disease resistant.|
|Marquette||2006||Red wine||Resists downy and powdery mildew, and black rot, with open, orderly growth habit. Wine has complex notes of cherry, berry, black pepper, and spice on both nose and palate.|
|Bluebell||1944||Table, juice, jelly||Early ripening. Blue-seeded table grape with a juice, jelly mild Concord-like flavor. Disease resistant.|
|Edelweiss*||1977||Table, wine||Large-clustered, white-seeded table grape with a wine Concord-like flavor. May need winter protection.|
|Swenson Red*||1977||Table||Red-seeded table grape with refreshing flavor and crisp texture. Needs winter protection and a thorough spray program.|
*Joint release with Elmer Swenson.
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.