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White, light, fruity, aromatic, but hardier than its parent, Gewürztraminer.

Traminette was named and released by Cornell University in 1996 and has been widely planted across the Midwest.

Traminette was named and released by Cornell University in 1996 and has been widely planted across the Midwest.

After 15 years of establishing its credentials, Traminette has won its place as the grape behind the signature wine of Indiana.    

For the last year and a half, the Indiana Wine Grape Council, with about $20,000 a year in state funding, has run a “Try on Traminette” promotion to encourage Hoosiers to visit local wineries and try this white, light, fruity, aromatic Gewürztraminer-style wine. Indiana has 54 wineries, and more than 30 now make Traminette, up from 15 two years ago.

In support of the wine, the Purdue Wine Grape Action Team did its work. Purdue University viticulture professor Dr. Bruce Bordelon developed a publication on Traminette vineyard management; his colleague enology professor Dr. Christian Butzke developed a publication on Traminette winemaking; and colleague Dr. Jeanette Merritt, a marketing specialist for the Indiana Wine Grape Council, developed the Try on Traminette marketing campaign.

The winemakers of Indiana did their part. Fourteen wineries won medals for their Traminettes in the 2010 Indy International Wine Competition, and French Lick Winery won not only Traminette of the Year but White Wine of the Year, beating 1,000 entries from 15 countries.

Bordelon said he believes Traminette has been the most-planted variety in the Midwest since about 2000. In Indiana, acreage now is probably greater than Chardonel and perhaps even Chambourcin, which were the top two varieties. There are only about 600 acres of wine grapes in Indiana, and these three each have more than 100 acres.

Among the things Bordelon likes about Traminette as the signature grape is that it grows well across the whole state of Indiana, north to south, but expresses itself differently enough to present several styles. No best style has yet been picked.

Butzke has developed “clouds” to describe the wines.  Words appear in a cluster, and the different type sizes indicate the strength of the characteristic flavor and aroma found in the wine. Wines from the north have a strong rose aroma, with other aromas of apricot, peach, and passion fruit appearing medium size, while pear, honey, ginger, and apple are in smaller type. The southern cloud uses the words grapefruit and spice large, with lemon, lime, peach, and lychee midsize, and honeysuckle, tangerine, apricot, and pineapple in smaller ­letters.

Most of these stem from aromatic compounds called monoterpenes, which develop strongly when fruit is exposed to sunlight. “Traminette has three times the level of the monoterpene cis-rose oxide of Gewürztraminer,” Bordelon said. The wine can be too flowery, too perfumy, he said, and sometimes needs blending. In managing the variety, growers need to practice leaf pulling and proper canopy management to get sunlight on the fruit.

“We’re doing chemical analysis of the winning wines from the Indy competition to see what characteristics enticed the judges to give the medals,” he said.
In northern Indiana, he said, where the season is shorter and the climate cooler, the grape keeps higher levels of malic acid as it ripens in September. Total acidity is higher. Typically, the fruit achieves 22° Brix and 3.2 pH across the state.

“Traminette is consistent. It makes good wine every year,” he said. “In a bad year, it’s still good, and in a good year, it’s fantastic.”

Bordelon has looked for a signature grape for several years. Chambourcin is too late ripening for northern Indiana, he said. Chardonel is grown there, but it has shown symptoms of decline after only ten years. Seyval has a very strong tendency to overcrop and to produce large, tight clusters on primary, secondary, and tertiary buds, requiring their removal. Vignoles in the south ripens too early and is subject to fruit rots if it’s hot and rainy. ­Marquette, which is cold hardy and bred in Minnesota, ripens too early and is better suited to cooler climates.

“Traminette buds out on average about two weeks later than early varieties such as Foch and Marquette, which helps it avoid frost damage,” he said.
“Traminette is a little shy on productivity,” he added. “Unlike many hybrid varieties, it is not overly fruitful. Cluster thinning is not normally necessary to balance the yield to the vine’s vegetative vigor and capacity to ripen the crop.”

Traminette has been tested in Indiana since 1992, four years before its official release by Cornell University. It was first planted at Geneva in 1968 from seeds; H.C. ­Barrett, then at Cornell, made the cross when at the ­University of Illinois. Traminette resulted from a cross between Joannes Seyve 23-416 and Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer is not considered reliably cold hardy in the ­Midwest.

The original vines planted in 1992 at Vincennes, ­Indiana, have shown no decline whatever, Bordelon said. Phylloxera, while it can be found on Traminette roots, has not been a problem.

Traminette grows well on its own roots, but can be grafted as well. It is cold hardy enough for Indiana, where winter temperatures rarely fall below –15˚F. Its developers in Geneva, New York, rated it moderately hardy with a predicted 50 percent primary bud kill when winter ­temperatures fall below –15.3˚F.

In one of the promotional fact sheets developed by Jeanette Merritt, Traminette is described as “Indiana’s light, fresh, delicate alternative to oaky ­Chardonnays” and “pleasing to a variety of tastes—winemaking styles can range from seriously dry to lusciously sweet.”