Irv Geary, who owns the Wild River Vineyards and is the winemaker of Wild Mountain Winery in North Branch, Minnesota, is president of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association (Courtesy Irv Geary)
Though the spotlight is shining on the University of Minnesota’s newest cold-hardy variety, Itasca, there are four other cold-hardy wine grapes that have been developed by the university, plus a public domain mutation.
Rated to grow in USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone 4, the varieties tend to be grown in Midwest, New England, New York and Canadian vineyards.
They include both red and wine varieties, and the wines produced from them currently sell mainly to regional audiences located near the wineries.
Frontenac is one of the more popular grape varieties grown in Minnesota. Born of a cross of Landot 4511 and native American Vitis riparia, it is resistant to downy and powdery mildew as well as Botrytis bunch rot.
At harvest, this red grape features high acidity and high sugar. The grape is used to produce three styles of wine: a red table wine, an “outstanding” rosé and a port, said Irv Geary, president of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association.
Geary owns the Wild River Vineyards and is the winemaker of Wild Mountain Winery of North Branch, Minnesota.
Bryan Forbes, University of Minnesota’s cold-hardy grape breeding program interim winemaker, said Frontenac has “color for miles. It’s fairly sugar-ripe and good for port-style wines.”
Geary agreed. “The Frontenac port style produces a high-acid wine with a chocolate-covered cherry nose with mocha overtones,” he said.
The grape makes an intense, very fruity red table wine. “It’s all plums and black currants,” Forbes said.
Released in 2003, Frontenac Gris originated from a single cane of a Frontenac vine that bore pink-skinned grapes instead of black ones. Due to its skin pigment, Frontenac Gris grapes make wines with a peach-pink color.
Its high acid needs to be dealt with, said Forbes. That said, he thinks the wine has nice aromatics.
Geary said it is used to make a sweeter style white than its Frontenac parent. “Most winemakers here in Minnesota use it to make a sweet to semi-sweet, white dessert wine,” he said.
Others have begun to make ice wine with it because it is a strong grape, capable of hanging on vines well into early winter, Geary said. While some growers were picking it early and freezing it, more growers are leaving it on the vine until the first 15-degree day, usually in November or early December.
Introduced in 2006, it has a blue/black fruit and has both Frontenac and Pinot Noir in its pedigree. It comes from a cross of MN 1094 and Ravat 262.
Resistance to downy and powdery mildew and black rot is very good, while phylloxera resistance is moderate. Its growth habit is open and orderly.
Marquette makes a ruby-colored wine, with good tannins and flavors of cherry, berries, black pepper and black currant. “As a dry red wine, it is experiencing more success than Frontenac, because it has lower acidity, more tannins and more body,” Geary said.
Forbes describes Marquette as the standard bearer of Minnesota cold-hardy varieties. “It is a very pleasant red grape, much like a Gamay. It can make a nice, dry red, even though it’s not overly tannic,” he said.
He also said he thinks it makes a nice rosé.
Wines made from this grape have won the Governor’s Cup at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition, held in St. Paul, Minnesota, more times than any other variety. Introduced in 2002, it is the product of a cross of St. Pepin and ES 6-8-25.
This is a grape that requires extra attention to get to harvest. While it offers moderate resistance to downy mildew and black rot, it is susceptible to powdery mildew and phylloxera.
Its canopy is high-vigor, requiring attention throughout the season. Poor fruit set and late season berry shelling have also been observed.
Despite its viticulture concerns, Geary describes it as “the premier cold-hardy white wine grape.”
Winemakers use it to make semi-dry and semi-sweet varietals. “Getting the sugar balance right is key,” said Forbes.
Geary likes the wines’ aromatics, saying it has a Muscat-type aroma. Forbes agreed, saying the wine’s aromatics are in the Muscat/Gewürtztraminer family.
Introduced in 2012, Frontenac Blanc resulted from white-fruited mutations discovered on Frontenac Gris vines in Canada and Minnesota.
Wines made from this grape are just getting to the marketplace, Geary said.
“It’s a true white with more of a stone fruit aroma,” he said. The aroma is a bit tamer than that of Frontenac Gris, Forbes added.
Susceptible to powdery mildew and phylloxera, it seems to offer good resistance to downy mildew. The grapes are yellow to gold when ripe and make a very light, straw-colored wine.
Wines made from the mutations are sweet or off-dry whites. •