We began in 2006 with the licensing of the winery. I had previously planted about 30 vines of a variety of grape species known to be hardy in our area. Some turned out to be more or less so. The goal was to raise grapes hardy to our area and as resistant to the local pathogens as possible. This would allow growing grapes with the least amount of spraying. The French-American hybrids were chosen as they offer disease resistance and can produce good quality wines. The North American native grapes are phylloxera resistant but can have flavor qualities that are not good in wine. The fox grape or Vitis labrusca, which is Concord and all it’s cousins has a foxy character that makes it unsuitable for fine wine. Phylloxera is a mite that is native to North America and is deadly to the French grapes, Vitis vinifera. Hybridization of the two is a happy medium to solve both flavor problems and give resistance to phylloxera. One exception to this is an American species known a Norton/Cynthiana or Vitis aestivalis. This grape has good wine making flavors and is practically immune to most grape pathogens and insects. We raise a small number of this variety but we are probably on the Northern most border of it’s range to achieve adequate maturity at harvest.
With that as a background, I chose Frontenac, a hybrid of Vitis riparia and Landot 4511, itself a French-American hybrid, and one of our primary varieties. Frontenac was developed at the University of Minnesota and is very cold hardy and practically immune to downy mildew. It is a high acid grape however and requires malolactic fermentation to reduce final acidity.
We also raise Marechal Foch, a French-American hybrid, with good qualities for a light red wine with cherry notes.
Frontenac Gris is a variety which a sport of Frontenac and is a very lightly pigmented grape that makes a nice blush to white wine. It has all the cultural characteristics of Frontenac and is very hardy.
Norton is Vitis aestivalis, the grape I discussed above. It is extremely hardy but very high in potassium and malic acid requiring malolactic fermentation to smooth it’s finish.
I have just planted some LaCrosse and Marquette, both new varieties that show promise as cold hardy wine grapes.
I had experimented with Cabernet franc, a French grape grafted on American rootstock. It is hardy in Michigan but not here. They all died with the first 20 below zero winter. I have a few white varieties such as Cayuga and Seyval and Prairie Star but they have not been very hardy.
Our first major production year was 2008, when we had the first real crop from 3 year old vines. I chose to finish part of the Frontenac and all the Frontenac Gris off dry with some residual sweetness. This seems to be quite popular with most people leaving the rest of the Frontenac and all the Norton dry. Hopefully something for everyone!