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Uncorking Minnesota’s Wine Country

By April 12, 2019 No Comments

Midwest wine with a global impact

If the term “wine region” conjures up images of quintessential French cottages dotting the hillsides of Burgundy, or expansive vineyards of coastal California — close your eyes and picture this: lush, rolling pastures of Midwest farmland, painted with vineyards. It’s not a fantasy, with upwards of 70 operating wineries in the state of Minnesota.

Minnesota is yet a fledgling when it comes to its history as a wine region. The first documented wine grape vines were planted in Minnesota soil in the 1970’s, compared to many other American wine regions established in the mid-1800’s. In just a short time though, Minnesota’s grape crops are having an impact world-wide.

The University of Minnesota has one of the world’s top programs developing “cold-hardy” or “cold climate” grape varieties, a diverse base of hybrids including classic Vitis vinifera cultivars, French hybrids, and hardy, disease-resistant selections based on Vitis riparia, Minnesota’s native grape.

How hardy are they, really? Many International grape varieties that withstand cooler temperatures, Riesling and Chardonnay for example, can survive conditions as low as -15 or -20 F.

Three of Minnesota’s most popular cold-climate hybrids, Marquette, Frontenac Gris, and LaCrescent, have been studied to survive temperatures as low as -35 F.

There are a total of more than 20 grape varieties native to the state of Minnesota, 9 of which have been developed by the University of Minnesota, and are being purchased by cultivators world-wide, making possible the development of wine regions in areas that were otherwise too climate extreme.

What to expect from a cold climate, hybrid wine

In general, Minnesota wines have high acidity similar to wines from regions such as Northern Germany.  Red wines tend to be dominated by red fruit flavors, and also slightly herbal or “foxy”, perhaps in part due to their Vitis riparia lineage.  White wines are aromatic and often bost bold, tropical fruit flavors.

Tasting Notes: Marquette

A genetic descendant of pinot noir

Round Lake Vineyard and Winery’s 2015 Marquette Reserve is a vibrant, deep ruby color with a powerful nose dominated by white pepper, cherry, black currant, black tea, hint of vanilla, and currant leaf.  On the palate, it is medium-bodied and dry with moderately high acidity, moderate and soft tannins. Its intense flavor matches the nose, with a lengthy finish of sweet cherry and vanilla flavors.

Tasting Notes: Frontenac Gris

A mutation of Frontenac, a full-bodied red wine grape

Chateau St Croix’s Minnesota White is a rich gold in color with powerful aromas of pineapple, bitter orange, ripe apricot and musk, with an equally strong palate matching the nose. The searing acidity in this Frontenac Gris was well balanced by its semi-sweetness.