Wine Grapes FAQ
Are these varieties really that cold hardy?
Yes! These are some of the most cold hardy varieties in the world. They've all borne a full crop after temperatures of -30°F or colder. We don't like to give a precise value for exactly how hardy they are because there are so many variables involved. For example, overcropping or poor disease control the previous year will substantially reduce the hardiness of any grapevine. Even when well grown, every winter is different in terms of snow cover and acclimation (or deacclimation) conditions.
Is the wine from these varieties actually good quality or is it just acceptable where few other grapes can be grown?
These varieties really can make excellent wines when well grown and vinified. Proof of that are the numerous medals wineries in Minnesota and elsewhere have been winning in national and international competitions with these new varieties. They are also now starting to be planted in mainstream eastern wine regions where growers have many other options to choose from.
How can I learn more about growing grapes in Minnesota?
Here are some suggestions:
- Check out the University of Minnesota (U of M) Commercial Fruit Production website
- Join the Minnesota Grape Growers Association (MGGA) and attend their annual Cold Climate Grape & Wine Conference in February
- Check out the Minnesota Farm Winery Association.
- Attend the U of M's Fall Tour at the Horticultural Research Center in September
- Visit local wineries like the ones on the Great River Road Wine Trail, Heartland Wine Trail, Upper St. Croix Wine Trail, Three Rivers Wine Trail, or Savor Minnesota.
- Read 'Growing Grapes in Minnesota' a 70 page book from MGGA and the 'Midwest Grape Production Guide'.
- Take a U of M course on grapes and wine entitled Hort 1031 Vines and Wines - An Introduction to Viticulture and Enology as well as a more advanced course on fruit growing, Hort 5031 - Sustainable Viticulture and Fruit Production. Visit the U of M Class Schedule site to check for course availability.
- Take courses offered by the Des Moines Area Community College regarding Viticulture (the science, production and study of grapes).
- After these steps, plant a few vines and see how they do for you. Growing even half a dozen vines can be very educational and might help you avoid making large-scale mistakes later on.
Can I visit the U of M Horticultural Research Center and see these varieties?
Generally the HRC is closed to the public. However, on occassion there will be free tours of the grape breeding research going on at the U of M, often in early September. This is a great chance to see and taste many different varieties and promising selections from our breeding program. For more information on whether this event is happening this year, view the MGGA events calendar.
What are the best parts of Minnesota for growing grapes?
Grapes can be grown as a hobby throughout the state, although only very early ripening and cold hardy types should be tried in northern Minnesota. In terms of commercial viticulture, the most promising areas in the state are along the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix river valleys in the southern third of the state. These valleys were created in glacial times and have large hills surrounding them as well as gravelly or sandy soils well suited for grapes.
Is it legal for me to propagate my own vines from cuttings?
Since Frontenac gris, La Crescent, and Marquette are patented varieties they can't be legally propagated without a license from the U of M. Currently, only licensed nurseries can legally propagate these vines. If you are not licensed, please contact one of these nurseries to place your order.
Propagation reporting for Frontenac Grapes is managed through cooperation with the Minnesota Nursery Research Corporation (MNRC). Fees of $0.25 per plant are collected to help fund plant breeding efforts at the University of Minnesota, and foster the development of successful new plant introductions. If you propagate Frontenac Grapes, please support this program by contacting John Daniels, Secretary-Treasurer, MNRC, by email at JDaniels@bachmans.com.
When will the U of M varieties be available in Canada?
Frontenac, Frontenac gris, La Crescent and Marquette are currently available from licensed nurseries in Canada.
Are the U of M varieties available in California, Oregon, or Washington?
Yes, plants that meet the clean stock requirements of these states are available from licensed nurseries in those states.
What's the single biggest factor to consider in deciding where to plant a vineyard?
Assuming your property is located somewhere in southern or central Minnesota, the biggest factor to consider is elevation. Plant your vines on high ground with good air drainage to avoid late frosts in the spring and early frosts in the fall. South slopes are ideal but not essential. Avoid north slopes as the reduced sunlight and heat will retard ripening and the crop will have reduced sugar and increased acidity levels.
What kind of training system should I use with U of M varieties?
Our standard practice for test vines at the University of Minnesota is to grow them all on a high cordon (HC) training system in order to reduce the number of variables in our research. Frontenac, Frontenac gris, La Crescent, and Marquette have all performed well when trained to that system. However, that's not to say that they wouldn't also perform as well or better on other training systems.
For example, growers have had very good results with Frontenac, Frontenac gris, and La Crescent on Geneva Double Curtain (GDC). Since these are vigorous varieties, GDC is a viable option to consider, especially on highly fertile soils. Frontenac and Frontenac gris have also done well when grown using the Vertical Shoot Positioned (VSP) system, whereas La Crescent appears to be too sprawling for VSP to be the best choice. Marquette is the most upright and least vigorous of the four and therefore the most likely to succeed on VSP. Since it's also the newest introduction (2006), not as much is known about its performance on systems other than the high cordon. When choosing between VSP and HC some factors to consider are the potentially better light exposure and fruit quality of VSP as opposed to the reduced labor and greater risk of frost damage from HC. (Since VSP is lower to the ground, vines are more subject to frost damage using that system.) In some areas (Quebec) Frontenac has been grown on very low VSP cordons about a foot off the ground. This system only makes sense for vines that are covered over the winter and since Frontenac is a very winter hardy variety... we do not recommend such low cordons. An excellent presentation of additional information on training systems and pruning of grapes is available from Iowa State University.
What should I do for a disease or pest problem?
For Homeowners/Amateur Growers visit the University of Minnesota Extension What's wrong with my plant? site.
What's the best way to reduce acid in wine made from your cultivars?
There are many options for addressing the relatively high titratable acidity (TA.) The most important, of course, is managing vines properly in the vineyard, to achieve appropriate sun exposure, crop load, and subsequent ripening. During processing, some winemakers choose to ameliorate with water either before or after fermentation, though this method may change sensory characteristics. If a fruity, off-dry style is desired, the perception of acid can be decreased by increasing residual sugar, adding body and mouthfeel and boosting the fruity characteristics of the wine. In red wines, malolactic fermentation (MLF) is strongly recommended, as it decreases acidity while adding complexity to the overall sensory profile. In white wines, however, this practice tends to depress fruit and may result in somewhat lackluster wines.
In years with poor ripening, carbonate additions may be necessary to achieve proper palate balance. Potassium bicarbonate is added prior to cold stabilization and can be used to reduce acidity by as much as 2 g/L. Bicarbonate additions are usually made incrementally, with regular testing, to insure that the acid reduction can be fine-tuned to prevent excessive deacidification or production of off-flavors. Calcium carbonate additions are generally not recommended, primarily because the off-notes produced may be deemed unpleasant by consumer panels.
What type of yeasts do you recommend for winemaking with each cultivar?
While the choice of yeast strain depends largely on stylistic goals and personal taste, the Research Winery has had good luck with Pasteur Red (Red Star), Fermirouge (Gist-Brocades), RC212 (Lallemand), and BM 45 (Lallemand) for Frontenac and Marquette. Côte des Blancs (Red Star), Fermiblanc arom (DSM), and EC 1118 (Lallemand) have performed well for La Crescent and Frontenac gris. Generally, yeasts that enhance aromatics are recommended for white wine and rosé production, and those which enhance fruit and body, are recommended for the reds. There are scores of good yeast strains available, and experimentation is highly recommended.
What length skin contact time do you recommend with Frontenac and Marquette?
In the Research Winery, Frontenac is typically fermented on the skins for 5 days, and Marquette for 8. Commercial winemakers in the region report fermenting Frontenac on-skins from 3-8 days, depending on the desired style, color, and aging potential of finished wine. As a rule, Frontenac has high color and needs less skin contact time than Marquette, which behaves more like V. vinifera.
Can you provide a good "recipe" for winemaking with each cultivar?
Unfortunately, no. While we can provide general guidelines, the effect of different microclimates, viticultural practices, and general terroir makes each lot of grapes very different, and in need of different processing practices. Making the best wine from your grapes requires cautious experimentation, good record keeping, and a good grasp of basic winemaking principles.