Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Minnesota Grown

Today, our local farm report included one on the favorable grape harvest. With the annual Carlos Creek Grape Stomp this weekend, I thought it might be fun to look at a few varieties grown in Minnesota.

Introduced in 1995, Frontenac is the first in a series of new wine grape varieties developed by the University of Minnesota for Upper Midwest conditions. It is a very cold hardy vine and has borne a full crop after temperatures as low as -30 F and is also a very disease resistant. When grown in colder area the berries must be left on the vine long enough to mature fully. It produces only a moderate number of tendrils, which facilitates vine management.

Marechal Foch is a short season French-American hybrid small-cluster grape with hard-cold tolerance to -20 deg. F. It has good resistance to the usual diseases and normally ripens in early September. Grows well in sandy soils, but may need grafting for use in heavier soil types. Noted for producing somewhat light, yet deeply colored and strongly varietal wines described as having a “Burgundian” character. Usually needs the help of carbonic maceration or hot-pressing to enhance quality.

Frontenac Gris is a white wine grape. Found growing at the University of Minnesota as a sport of Frontenac. Culturally, it is identical to Frontenac, having high vigor and yields. Hardy to at least -38 F. Disease resistance is good, with moderate susceptibility to powdery mildew and black rot, and very low susceptibility to downy mildew. Small grey berries are born on medium sized, loose clusters. Suitable for high quality table and dessert wines, possibly ice wine as well. Ripens mid season with aromas that include peach, apricot, citrus, and pineapple.

Seyval (Seyval blanc) is one of the most widely planted hybrid grapes east of the Rocky Mountains. When grapes are harvested at optimal maturity, wines have attractive aromas of grass, hay, and melon. The body tends to be thin, and either malolactic fermentation or barrel fermentation followed by oak aging will enhance quality. The vine tends to overbear and must be cluster and shoot thinned to ensure proper ripening and maintain vine size. Grafting is also recommended on all but the most fertile sites. Fruit clusters are very susceptible to Botrytis bunch rot.

The report concluded that our home-grown wines are becoming more palatable. From the few that I have tasted, we have a way to go. But, with more growers planting vines, it may be just a matter of time before you open a Minnesota wine with dinner.