Our Vineyard & Grapes
Wine Grapes in Vermont?!
You’re not the first to wonder how on Earth we grow winegrapes in Vermont. Our grape varieties are specific for winters as cold as ours, so they grow well and make great wine here in the Champlain Valley.
Many of our grape varieties originated at the University of Minnesota‘s grape breeding program. The folks there cross-pollinate different grape varieties to breed vines that not only survive winters down to about -30°F or colder but also make award-winning wine. It’s an old-fashioned process, moving pollen from one flower to another, planting the resulting seed, evaluating the plants and the grapes, and then starting again. Another group of winter-hardy grape varieties was created by the late Elmer Swenson, a private breeder from Osceola, Wisconsin. Meet these all these grape varieties below.
Grape growers in places like New England and the Upper Midwest used to be limited to a few varieties like Concord. Even these grapes didn’t always ripen in our relatively short growing season, and even when they did ripen, they were suitable mostly for jelly and juice.
But all that has changed. These cold-hardy grape varietals are being planted throughout the northeast, mid-west, and southern Canada. They’re even planted in some areas that don’t “require” them, like Virginia, simply because winemakers like the wines they make. Excellent wine is being produced and sold at these vineyards, and more vineyards are being planted as fast as the vines can be propagated. The world of grape growing has truly moved North!
Marquette sets a new standard of excellence for winter-hardy red wine grapes. The grape is a grandchild, so to speak, of Pinot Noir, but tends to have more body. The wine is complex, with characteristic black cherry and black pepper notes and more tannin than the other northern reds. The grapes mature about 2 weeks before Frontenac.
>> We make Marquette and Heartwood with Marquette grapes.
Frontenac is a very cold hardy vine and has borne a full crop after temperatures as low as -30 F. Frontenac’s small black berries are produced on large clusters that are usually slightly loose. Frontenac is a consistently heavy producer and sometimes requires cluster thinning. Frontenac wine has a pleasant cherry aroma with notes of plum and a garnet red color.
>> We make Ragtime Red with Frontenac grapes.
La Crescent has long slightly loose clusters and turns a beautiful golden brown color when ripe. La Crescent produces a wine with a pronounced and delicious apricot flavor. The wine is fairly high in acid, and would be made in a Germanic style, with some residual sugar. The wine can be very good, balanced, and with good body. It is from UMinn.
>> We make three wines with La Crescent: La Crescent (semi-dry), Ragtime White (sweet), and Late Harvest (rich and sweet).
Louise Swenson is one of Elmer’s grapes, named for his wife. The wine has a typically delicate aroma of flowers and honey. This wine’s only fault is that it is rather light in body. Blending with a variety such as Prairie Star makes it a more complete wine. Louise Swenson rarely exceeds 20 Brix, but acidity is moderate.
>> We make Black Sparrow with Louise Swenson in the field blend.
Prairie Star, another of Elmer’s varieties, has small light-colored berries. Prairie Star has good body, and so we blend it with others of Elmer’s grapes. The vine is one of the hardiest white wine varieties, suffering little damage in all but the harshest winters.
>> We make Black Sparrow with Prairie Star in the field blend.
Swenson White‘s clusters are medium-large and rather loose. Berries are large and thick-skinned, allowing them to hang on the vine, unmolested by insects late into the fall season. Wines produced from Swenson White have a pronounced flowery nose and a long fruity finish.
>> We make Black Sparrow with Swenson White in the field blend.
Frontenac Gris (pronounced “gree”) is a natural variant of Frontenac with dusky purple/gray fruit (“Gris” is “gray” in French). Frontenac Gris makes a wine with a peach flavor and tropical fruit/grapefruit undertones. The wine color ranges from amber to light rosé, depending on how long the juice is allowed to sit with the skins. From UMinn.
>> We make Sycamore with Frontenac Gris and its close cousin…
Frontenac Blanc is a natural variant of Frontenac Gris with light berries but some Frontenac family characteristics, like large leggy clusters and good winter hardiness. Frontenac Blanc wine tends to be austere, and it makes great blending with Frontenac Blanc and some Swenson varieties. From UMinn.
>> We make Sycamore with Frontenac Blanc and Gris
Adalmiina is another of Elmer’s grapes, though it was named by a Finnish winemaker who liked the variety. We grow very little, but it’s a great blending grape. And it’s beautiful, especially here in this shot from the last day of August.
>> We make Black Sparrow with Adalmiina in the field blend.
Somerset Seedless is a seedless grape with small, orange-red berries and good flavor. Many folks say it’s the best table grape they’ve ever had. The vines are hardy to about –30F. The fruit ripens mid- to late-August. We sell Somerset at our tasting room and at Farmers’ Market in the end of August.
Though they’re not related to grapes, we also grow a small patch of black currant bushes that we use to make our Cassis. We prune them in early spring and they ripen in late July. Picking them is always fun because we push trays under the bushes and “rake” the berries off with our fingers. It’s a nice change from picking grapes.