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U’s New Grape Can Withstand Cold Winters – But Maybe Not Minnesota Cold

The University of Minnesota has developed a hardy new grape variety that can withstand cold winters – but maybe not Minnesota cold.

Renowned agricultural researchers in the state have spent 20 years selecting, cultivating and observing the new variety, called Clarion, that it is now ready to be sold to grape growers and commercial growers.

But getting the white, shiny wine grape ready for prime time wouldn’t have been possible without Ray Winter, a winery operator in rural Janesville.

He, along with growers in Vermont and upstate New York, carefully cultivated and maintained the experimental vines.

“It makes very good wine,” said Winter, who ran Winterhaven Vineyard & Nursery. for over a decade on a former corn and bean farm.

“But,” he added, “it’s a zone 5 wine.”

This last part is important. He worked the Sisyphean task of starting and re-starting Clarion vines toppled by arctic air blasts for a decade.

When U of M announced earlier this week that Clarion, a cold-hardy white grape variety and the first new grape variety since 2017’s Itasca, was now on sale at Rocky Mountain Vineyards to the east, officials noted the grape could be experienced in the bold north.

But its growth is said to be happiest in zone 5 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness map. Zone 5 is a thin band that stretches northeast from the Colorado Rockies through the Central Plains. It hugs Minnesota’s southern border and crosses southeastern Wisconsin before heading into slices of upstate New York and southern New England.

“We’ve been watching this plant for over 20 years because the quality of the wine is so good,” said Matthew Clark, professor of horticultural science at U of M. “It will be easier for producers in good regions, a little south of here.”

The grape was tested at Winterhaven outside of Janesville and at a winery in upstate New York and Vermont. And it would be a shame not to release Clarion, the researchers said.

Since the 1970s, the University has been a recognized hotbed for cold grapes. In addition, the U takes a share for each sale of the patented breeds.

Just five years ago, the U of M Grape Breeding and Enology Program introduced what some have called the “honeycrisp” of cold-hardy grapes to Itasca – named after the legendary park in Itasca. state of northern Minnesota and the lake from which the Mississippi River flows.

Since then, more than 100,000 Itasca grape vines have been sold to wineries across the United States and Canada.

Itasca amazed observers with lower acidity scores than usual for cold hardy grapes. But, more importantly, the grape also crossed the polar vortex in 2014.

“They came up with some fancy names for ‘it’s a cold winter,'” Winter said. “Nothing new around here. But Itasca got away with it.”

Still, some growers lamented that Itasca smothered the fruit due to sunlight and airflow.

Clarion, compared to Itasca, is a more obedient plant, staying on the trellis, say grape experts from the U.

But Clarion’s nervousness about deep polar systems — like the one currently battering Minnesota — is why the name, unlike past strains like “Itasca” and “La Crescent,” doesn’t invoke geography. of Minnesota.

“For the next wine grape, we might come back for Minnesota, when it’s for [growing in] Minnesota,” Clark said.

Clarion’s aromatic profile is closer to a European varietal than to the notoriously fruity wines of the Midwest.

“It grows well,” Winter said of the new white grape variety. “It’s not one of them that’s so vigorous that it covers all the fruit.”

“It’s loud and clear,” Clark said, noting that the wine parallels its namesake, a long trumpet popular in the Renaissance.

He may well be complaining about wind chills dipping nearly 50 below zero.

startribune Gt Itly

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