Aug 15, 2018
Cold-climate growers having luck with hybrid variety

North Arm Noir, a Marquette wine, won Best of Class in the dry red wines category at the Michigan Wine Competition. Photo: Walloon Lake Winery

Winegrape growers in northern states are proving it’s possible to win wine competitions with single-variety wines based on material other than vitis vinifera.

Walloon Lake Winery is located in the tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, where the cold temperatures make it difficult to grow traditional winegrapes. Instead, the growers grew Marquette, a hybrid released by the University of Minnesota in 2006.

“There was one guy who started doing classes on viticulture and he really introduced everybody to the University of Minnesota cold-hardy varietals,” said Tim Dennis, owner and winemaker at Walloon Lake Winery. “There’s a bunch of small vineyards around, and we all planted around the same time, five or six years ago.”

That decision paid off. The 2016 crop of northern Michigan’s Marquette was large enough for Dennis to make 180 gallons of wine from it. He bottled it with the name North Arm Noir, and in the summer of 2017, it won “Best of Class” among dry red wines in the Michigan Wine Competition. Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council called it “one of the year’s head-turners” and said in a news release that it was rare for a hybrid red grape to rise above all other competitors.

“I’m not exactly sure how that happened,” Dennis said. “Sometimes you just get lucky: Right grapes, right year.”

Other vineyards have been lucky with Marquette as well. Vermont’s Shelburne Vineyard produced a 2014 single-barrel Marquette that won a gold medal at the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition.

According to the University of Minnesota, Marquette originated from a cross made in 1989 between parent plant MN 1094 and a French hybrid cultivar, Ravat 262. MN 1094’s family tree included V. riparia, V. vinifera and lesser amounts of several other Vitis species. Ravat 262 also has a complicated linage but includes pinot noir as one parent. James J. Luby – better known for his work on the breakout apple Honeycrisp – was the principal investigator of the cold hardy wines project while the grape breeder was Peter R. Hemstad. The project has also yielded white wine varieties Frontenac gris and Frontenac blanc. The university claims its new wine varieties “have energized a local commercial wine industry in the upper Midwest.”

Marquette can survive temperatures as low as – 35° F and buds three different times in the spring so as to survive frost, Dennis said. The University of Minnesota also lists it as having disease resistance to black rot, downy mildew and powdery mildew. It yields well and has a high sugar content.

“The biggest issue is the high acidity … but you can work that out,” Dennis said. “It just takes a little more effort.”

– Stephen Kloosterman, FGN Associate Editor

Above: James J. Luby, right, was the principal investigator of the University of Minnesota’s cold hardy wines project while the grape breeder was Peter R. Hemstad. Photo: University of Minnesota.

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