Ask for Itasca!

Check out our list of wineries that have released/will soon release an Itasca wine and nurseries/vineyards selling Itasca vines/grapes. Please be sure to check websites/contact the vineyards/wineries/nurseries in advance regarding current availabilty and any COVID-19 related restrictions.

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.

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

Image Variety Year Type Features
Frontenac wine grape. Frontenac aka Frontenac noir 1996 Red and rosé, port Vigorous and very disease resistant. Wine has flavors of cherry and plum. Can be high in acidity.
Frontenac blanc. Frontenac blanc 2012 White wine White-fruited sports of Frontenac and Frontenac gris with earlier harvest date.
Frontenac gris wine grape. Frontenac gris 2003 White wine Vigorous and very disease resistant. Wine has a characteristic peach flavor. Can be high in acidity.
Itasca grape bunch. Itasca 2017 White wine Lower acidity and high sugar levels. High resistance to downy and powdery mildew and the insect phylloxera. 
La Crescent wine grape. La Crescent  2002 White wine Very cold hardy. Wine has flavors of apricot, citrus, and tropical fruit. Moderately disease resistant.
Marquette grape. 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 Table Grapes Bluebell 1944 Table, juice, jelly Early ripening. Blue-seeded table grape with a juice, jelly mild Concord-like flavor. Disease resistant.
Edelweiss Table Grapes Edelweiss* 1977 Table, wine Large-clustered, white-seeded table grape with a wine Concord-like flavor. May need winter protection.
Swenson Red Table Grapes 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.